Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition!
I already did. It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Down, down baby

Yeah, one would wonder how much times I can write a post with that title. Obviously many. Because everyday we see another anti-miracle.

Yesterday, we saw another financial institution Lehman Bothers going doooooown. And the two candidate-presidents that promised the world to the people. And of course, people believed them. Oh, well. Probably I should refrain from elitist statements, but I won't. Come on, people don't you see it?! They are incapable, unresourceful and outright unqualified to handle USA.

Anyway, I don't care about presidents, right now. I'm more interested of the financial crisis since it affects people all over the world. And that according to EU News, USA has lost 100 000 financial workers. And that things are really going down. I can't say this makes me particularly happy, because USA still has the biggest share of worlds economy and the problems on American soil lead to inflation everywhere else. And while americans are not so strongly affected by inflation, the rest of us are.

I urge you to read the articles, they are not boring. What impresses me is that the government that nationalized Merrill obviously figured it cannot nationalize all those companies and just save the day. And obviously, there are many and they are in trouble. I think it was a good decision to not try to save them-although the question whether it's not the government that led them into the abyss, after it allowed all those risky investments is still standing. My libertarian friend would argue it's not duty of the government to regulate companies and that they should be left to their natural economical health but I think it is. And people are loosing their jobs and the market is getting crazy and inflation is rising. Everyone is loosing. And for me, it's precisely the duty of the government to make sure such things won't happen. To make sure the laws reflect the real situation in the country and in the world.

Now, I can't say whether this is a step toward more non-speculative market or is the road to monopoly (because as we see the financial institutions buy each other and get bigger), but it's interesting to watch. Oh, well, sadistic but interesting :)

BTW, is it just me that sees something unnatural in the events? It's just a feeling.
(soon, the crisis in Europe)

Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; Merrill Is Sold

September 14, 2008

In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself on Sunday to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis, while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy protection and hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer.

The humbling moves, which reshape the landscape of American finance, mark the latest chapter in a tumultuous year in which once-proud financial institutions have been brought to their knees as a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in losses because of bad mortgage finance and real estate investments.

But even as the fates of Lehman and Merrill hung in the balance, another crisis loomed as the insurance giant American International Group appeared to teeter. Staggered by losses stemming from the credit crisis, A.I.G. sought a $40 billion lifeline from the Federal Reserve, without which the company may have only days to survive.

The stunning series of events culminated a weekend of frantic around-the-clock negotiations, as Wall Street bankers huddled in meetings at the behest of Bush administration officials to try to avoid a downward spiral in the markets stemming from a crisis of confidence.

“My goodness. I’ve been in the business 35 years, and these are the most extraordinary events I’ve ever seen,” said Peter G. Peterson, co-founder of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group, who was head of Lehman in the 1970s and a secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration.

It remains to be seen whether the sale of Merrill, which was worth more than $100 billion during the last year, and the controlled demise of Lehman will be enough to finally turn the tide in the yearlong financial crisis that has crippled Wall Street and threatened the broader economy.

Early Monday morning, Lehman said it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York for its holding company in what would be the largest failure of an investment bank since the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert 18 years ago, the Associated Press reported.

Questions remain about how the market will react Monday, particularly to Lehman’s plan to wind down its trading operations, and whether other companies, like A.I.G. and Washington Mutual, the nation’s largest savings and loan, might falter.

Indeed, in a move that echoed Wall Street’s rescue of a big hedge fund a decade ago this week, 10 major banks agreed to create an emergency fund of $70 billion to $100 billion that financial institutions can use to protect themselves from the fallout of Lehman’s failure.

The Fed, meantime, broadened the terms of its emergency loan program for Wall Street banks, a move that could ultimately put taxpayers’ money at risk.

Though the government took control of the troubled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only a week ago, investors have become increasingly nervous about whether major financial institutions can recover from their losses.

How things play out could affect the broader economy, which has been weakening steadily as the financial crisis has deepened over the last year, with unemployment increasing as the nation’s growth rate has slowed.

The weekend that humbled Lehman and Merrill Lynch and rewarded Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., began at 6 p.m. Friday in the first of a series of emergency meetings at the Federal Reserve building in Lower Manhattan.

The bankers were told that the government would not bail out Lehman and that it was up to Wall Street to solve its problems. Lehman’s stock tumbled sharply last week as concerns about its financial condition grew and other firms started to pull back from doing business with it, threatening its viability.

Without government backing, Lehman began trying to find a buyer, focusing on Barclays, the big British bank, and Bank of America. At the same time, other Wall Street executives grew more concerned about their own precarious situation.

The fates of Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers would not seem to be linked; Merrill has the nation’s largest brokerage force and its name is known in towns across America, while Lehman’s main customers are big institutions. But during the credit boom both firms piled into risky real estate and ended up severely weakened, with inadequate capital and toxic assets.

For Bank of America, which this year bought Countrywide Financial, the troubled mortgage lender, the purchase of Merrill puts it at the pinnacle of American finance, making it the biggest brokerage house and consumer banking franchise.

Bank of America eventually pulled out of its talks with Lehman after the government refused to take responsibility for losses on some of Lehman’s most troubled real-estate assets, something it agreed to do when JP Morgan Chase bought Bear Stearns to save it from a bankruptcy filing in March.

Lehman’s filing is unlikely to resemble those of other companies that seek bankruptcy protection. Because of the harsher treatment that federal bankruptcy law applies to financial-services firms, Lehman cannot hope to reorganize and survive. It was not clear whether the government would appoint a trustee to supervise Lehman’s liquidation or how big the financial backstop would be.

A.I.G. will be the next test. Ratings agencies threatened to downgrade A.I.G.’s credit rating if it does not raise $40 billion by Monday morning, a step that would cripple the company. A.I.G. had hoped to shore itself up, in party by selling certain businesses, but potential bidders, including the private investment firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and TPG, withdrew at the last minute because the government refused to provide a financial guarantee for the purchase. A.I.G. rejected an offer by another investor, J. C. Flowers & Company.

The weekend’s events indicate that top officials at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury are taking a harder line on providing government support of troubled financial institutions.source

Wall St.’s Turmoil Sends Stocks Reeling

September 15, 2008

Fearing that the crisis in the financial industry could stun the broader economy, investors drove stocks down almost 5 percent Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to their lowest levels in two years.

The Dow fell 504.48 points, its biggest one-day point drop since Sept. 17, 2001, the first trading day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In the minutes before the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, dozens of traders were clustered around the specialists who oversee trading of American International Group and Bank of America, shouting bids and offers. As the opening bell clanged, dozens of flat-panel monitors around the specialists’ posts pulsed with frantic trading.

With Lehman filing for bankruptcy and A.I.G. in distress, investors were worried that consumers and companies would have difficulty getting loans.

The credit markets, in turmoil for more than a year, showed new distress on Monday. Prices of credit default swaps, used by institutional investors for protection from potential bond defaults, rose sharply.

The prices of Treasury bills and notes soared as investors sought safe places to park their capital. Oil prices dropped sharply on Monday, on concerns that demand for energy would shrink as economies slowed down.

The market volatility was likely to continue for some time, economists and strategists said.

On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs will report its earnings, and the Federal Reserve will decide whether to change short-term interest rates. On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley reports earnings.

Financial companies led the plunge Monday, with Goldman Sachs dropping 19 percent and Citigroup falling 15 percent. But stocks that investors view as particularly sensitive to a slower economy, like those of technology companies and manufacturers, were also punished.

On Monday, the Dow closed at 10,917.51, down 4.4 percent. The S.& P. 500 index of the biggest United States public companies fared even worse, falling 59.00 points, or 4.7 percent, to 1,192.69, its lowest close since October 2005.

The crisis on Wall Street caused by the bursting of the real-estate bubble has now lasted 13 months and has caused far more damage than analysts initially forecast.

In the last two months, the chaos has taken a vicious turn, with investors quick to attack any financial company whose balance sheet appears less than pristine. Three of the five biggest American investment banks have failed or been bought since March, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant mortgage companies, were effectively nationalized earlier this month.

Plunging housing prices have also crimped consumer spending and slowed the overall economy, which has lost 700,000 jobs this year. Even so, investors have generally seemed hopeful that the economy would avoid a full-scale recession. Now that confidence may be fading.

Meanwhile, the rates at which banks make loans to each other also rose sharply, a sign that financial institutions feel they must hoard their capital rather than risk lending it and potentially losing it.

Mr. Stern of Bessemer said investors are concerned that the wave of Wall Street failures has not yet peaked. source

The new star of republicans

Ok, I couldn't help it but to write something about her.
Especially after this article.

I am really really at odds with that lady. I mean, from one point of view, I like women in big politics and I think we should support them as long as they are behaving well. I can't but like Sarah Palin for her courage and for the way she brings her feminine side with her without doubts or worries. From the other side, I do have a problem with it. I mean, it's great to be pregnant and to have a baby, but it's not that great to not take little time off and enjoy your baby for a while. I'm not saying she should be off for a year, but at least for a month to regain her strength. It's her decision, of course, but still, isn't this too much. Having a baby is a blessing and a woman should deserve at least little bit rest after this heavy task. Although, from the other side, I like the idea of the baby staying with her at work. I don't know how doable is to work and watch after the kid, but it sounds good-have your work and have your family in the same time. I remember how much I missed my puppy when I was at lectures. And he's only a dog.
A controversial person she is, no doubt. Although, I'm so heavily democratic and I really REALLY can't understand how a great and experienced politician like Hilary was replaced in the nation's heart by a mother without some outstanding talents in politics. Am I the last person who thinks that being a president or a vice-president is a very responsible and requiring job. A position that require a person not only with a nice character but also with knowledge and experience? Well, probably.
I'm starting to figure that US elections are just for the show. But still, it's weird to exchange someone with unquestionable qualities for a good mother. I don't mind good mothers, don't get me wrong. Even more, I see the lady isn't that conservative and I like it, of course. What I really don't like is that people don't understand the idea behind the President and his/her staff. It's all about his/her professional qualities. The character and the personality are just an addition. Why do everyone just go after the charm. The charm of Obama, the charm of Palin... Come on people, the person you chose is going to rule the strongest country in the world! Yeah, the adjective might change, but still, it will be strong for a while, it needs a great ruler. Not just someone whose fashion or smile you liked.

As I said I like Ms. Palin. I like the way she spread over womanhood. Even if I find the fact that she gave birth to a child with disabilities disgusting. Because she knew how it's going to be, and she already have other children. Deciding to keep the baby was very weird decision and I don't agree with it. I don't think it's very respectful to bring to the world a person that could have serious problems living in it.
I also don't like her pregnant daughter. Having a child is really a blessing. But also, you must have that child with the thought of him/her, not of you. Why bringing on the world someone that cannot be fully functional, just to be able to show off and have him/her as a pet? Or making a kid bear a baby-something so stressful even for a fully matured body and brain.

Back on her own baby. In many cases this could be unavoidable-many people know their kid has disabilities after it's too late. But to simply have children for the fun of it is disgusting. And then, have it as a proof of your anti-abortion attitude?! Give me a break! This is abuse of very unpleasant condition! What about all the other people that had that bad surprise at a point of no return and now are struggling with a child that will never have a chance of normal life. How's her showing off of the kid? What about all the others who knew it on time and didn't give birth to a such child, should they feel guilty that they chose the easy way? I'm not against having children with disabilities, I'm against having them on purpose, when you have the choice.

Anyway, the other reason why I don't like Ms. Palin (isn't she Mrs?) is that she obviously said that Creationism is fine, people needed to have all the information. How exactly is that for a president? To give an ok to fanatics! That's very very scary. I see the lady doesn't really care and she thinks this attitude will avoid her some clashes with both sides. Well, it's not ok. It's not about information-there is information for every freaky sect all over the internet. But you don't teach it at school. On the bright young kids. You don't satisfy their curiosity with mythology. You don't kill off their scientific interest giving them the simpler explanation-because God said so. God is everywhere and technically everything happens because God said so. But in the real life, engineers make planes and cars. And they need science to continue to do so.
Ok, I can go on forever. Obviously. That's it for the moment from me on Sarah Palin. She really was the best choice for Mccain. Too bad for Obama, although I still think Mccain or Obama-it's all the same.

P.S. Additional discussion on Palin, you can find here. Comments are very interesting. I liked mostly the one saying that the objection to Creationism is not so much about religion vs. science or two theories, it's about teaching non-scientific method in science class. I've said it many times, but I'd repeat it once again-THIS IS DANGEROUS! Logic is all we have, once we decide to settle with less, we're really heading down. And that's why Creationism should stay out of scientific classes. You can teach it in your church, but not in your school.

Fusing Politics and Motherhood in a New Way

Published: September 7, 2008

Sarah Palin’s baby shower included a surprise guest: her own baby. He had arrived in the world a month early, so on a sunny May day, Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, rocked her newborn as her closest friends, sisters, even her obstetrician presented her with a potluck meal, presents and blue-and-white cake.

Most had learned that Ms. Palin was pregnant only a few weeks before. Struggling to accept that her child would be born with Down syndrome and fearful of public criticism of a governor’s pregnancy, Ms. Palin had concealed the news that she was expecting even from her parents and children until her third trimester.

But as the governor introduced her son that day, according to a friend, Kristan Cole, she said she had come to regard him as a blessing from God. “Who of us in this room has the perfect child?” said Ms. Palin, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

Since that day, Trig Paxson Van Palin, still only 143 days old, has had an unexpected effect on his mother’s political fortunes. Before her son was born, Ms. Palin went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his arrival would not compromise her work. She hid the pregnancy. She traveled to Texas a month before her due date to give an important speech, delivering it even though her amniotic fluid was leaking. Three days after giving birth, she returned to work.

But with Trig in her arms, Ms. Palin has risen higher than ever. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, says he selected her as his running mate because of her image as a reformer, but she is also making motherhood an explicit part of her appeal, running as a self-proclaimed hockey mom. In just a few months, she has gone from hiding her pregnancy from those closest to her to toting her infant on stage at the Republican National Convention.

No one has ever tried to combine presidential politics and motherhood in quite the way Ms. Palin is doing, and it is no simple task. In the last week, the criticism she feared in Alaska has exploded into a national debate. On blogs and at PTA meetings, voters alternately cheer and fault her balancing act, and although many are thrilled to see a child with special needs in the spotlight, some accuse her of exploiting Trig for political gain.

But her son has given Ms. Palin, 44, a powerful message. Other candidates kiss strangers’ babies; Ms. Palin has one of her own. He is tangible proof of Ms. Palin’s anti-abortion convictions, which have rallied social conservatives, and her belief that women can balance family life with ambitious careers. And on Wednesday in St. Paul, she proclaimed herself a guardian of the nation’s disabled children.

By last winter, Ms. Palin seemed to have everything she had ever wanted. She had raised four children while turning herself into a rising star of the Republican Party of Alaska and then the national one. But then the still-new governor discovered she was pregnant. Piper, the youngest of the Palin brood, was 6. The family had long since given away their crib and high chair.

A few weeks later, after an amniocentesis, a prenatal test to identify genetic defects, Ms. Palin learned the results. Some abortion opponents decline such tests, but as her older sister, Heather Bruce, said, Ms. Palin “likes to be prepared.” With her husband, Todd, away at his job in the oil fields of the North Slope, Ms. Palin told no one for three days, she later said.

Once they reunited, the Palins struggled to understand what they would face. Children with Down syndrome experience varying degrees of cognitive disability and a higher-than-average risk of hearing loss, hypothyroidism and seizure disorders. About half are born with heart defects, which often require surgery.

The couple decided to keep quiet about the pregnancy so they could absorb the news, they told people later.

And there were political factors to consider. “I didn’t want Alaskans to fear I would not be able to fulfill my duties,” Ms. Palin told People magazine last week.

The governor, thin to begin with, began an elaborate game of fashion-assisted camouflage. When Vogue photographed her, five months pregnant, for a profile in January, she hid in a big green parka. At work, she wore long, loose blazers and artfully draped accessories.

As Ms. Palin’s clothes grew tighter, Alaskans began to talk. She told several aides that she was pregnant, and a week or so later, her parents and her children, who called other relatives.

On March 5, as she was leaving her office for a reception, she shared the news with three reporters.

She assured them she would not take much time off: she had returned to work the day after giving birth to Piper. “To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time,” she said, “I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.”

There was no mention of the baby’s condition. Instead, she joked about giving her child the middle name Van, since Van Palin would sound sort of like the hard rock band Van Halen.

The next day, her office issued a minimalist masterpiece of a press release, conveying the news in three curt sentences.

In private, the Palins slowly started to share the Down syndrome diagnosis. They wrote a long letter to Ms. Bruce, Ms. Palin’s sister, who has an autistic son, explaining how they had come to embrace the challenges their baby would bring.

In mid-April, Ms. Palin and her husband flew to Texas for an energy conference with fellow Republican governors. Days before, Ms. Palin, a little-known governor from a faraway state, was asked to speak to her peers.

Around 4 a.m. on the day of her presentation, Ms. Palin stirred in her hotel room to an unusual sensation. According to The Anchorage Daily News, she was leaking amniotic fluid. She woke her husband and called her doctor back home. Go ahead and give the speech, said the doctor, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who declined to comment for this article.

So Ms. Palin marched through the day. At a news conference, a reporter asked the six Republican governors present to raise their hands if they would refuse to serve as Mr. McCain’s vice-presidential nominee. Ms. Palin was one of two who kept their hands down.

In her lunchtime speech, Ms. Palin held forth on the trillions of cubic feet of gas in the Alaskan Arctic, competitive bidding over pipeline construction and natural gas combustion. As she left the podium, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas joked, “You’re not going to give birth, are you?”

Ms. Palin just laughed.

“Nobody knew a thing,” said Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii. “I only found out from my security detail on the way home that she had gone into labor and that she had gone home to Alaska.”

In fact, Ms. Palin was not in labor, and her doctor thought she had time. So the governor flew to Seattle, continued to Anchorage and then drove to a small hospital near her hometown, Wasilla — a journey of at least 10 hours.

“She wanted to get back to Alaska to have that baby,” said a friend, Curtis Menard. “Man, that is one tough lady.”

When Ms. Palin arrived at the hospital, she was still not in labor, so her doctor induced it, Ms. Bruce said. Trig was born early the next morning, weighing 6 pounds 2 ounces.

Ms. Palin’s three-day maternity leave has now become legend among mothers. But aides say she eased back into work, first stopping by her office in Anchorage for a meeting, bringing not only the baby but also her husband to look after him.

Many high-powered parents separate work and children; Ms. Palin takes a wholly different approach. “She’s the mom and the governor, and they’re not separate,” Ms. Cole said. Around the governor’s offices, it was not uncommon to get on the elevator and discover Piper, smothering her puppy with kisses.

Ms. Palin installed a travel crib in her Anchorage office and a baby swing in her Juneau one. For much of the summer, she carried Trig in a sling as she signed bills and sat through hearings, even nursing him unseen during conference calls.

Todd Palin took a leave from his job as an oil field production operator, and campaign aides said he was doing the same now.source

90 Afghans for one Mullad Sadiq

We talked about the censure of the war in Iraq. How about this?! This isn't even censure, it's an outright lie. I'm just sorry I'm so late with that story, because it's from 10 days ago. But I'm not exactly free to blog.
Anyway. Check out the difference between the two version. US army claims it killed only about 10 civil and around 40 militants. The village people claim there were more than 90 victims, most of which children and women. The US army claims that's a lie.
I wonder, why would they lie? In a non-taliban village, one that obviously provides security personal to US companies. And if paid well, they are probably very pro-USA, imagine what it is to work for an American company in a country that lives in misery. And those people, they lie. Or worst, they lie to hide the talibans. Is it just me that cannot find the logic in this?
And even more, that's not the first such raid, that leaves more dead women than dead terrorists.
I wonder why the US army thinks it's ok to kill foreign citizens on foreign soil or that even a 30% casualties are fine. I could expect that from the Russian army-if we remember the way the Beslan tragedy was handled, there were quite many innocent that didn't get out of the school. Unfortunately. And if I remember correctly, the West criticized Russia for that desperate act that possibly did save the life of the other people in there. And now, we see how US army finds 10 innocent people for 30 probably guilty is a bargain. Well in reality, the innocent that died are twice the possible terrorists? And all the Army does is say-that's not true?!
Well, all I can say is that I find the actions of the US army more and more disgusting. They are not only loosing the war in Afghanistan, they are loosing it big and worsening the situation by killing off anything in sight just in case. Like they are animals. Well, they are not! They are people and they are unique and deserving to live each and every one of them. And just like they wouldn't do that back home, in similar situation, they shouldn't be allowed to do it in other countries. Too bad I didn't see a continuation of that story.
And the other too bad is too bad they are loosing that war. Because talibans are really evil. They are and I don't deny it. They are an outright danger. But obviously, some people thought it's better to fight off peaceful Iraq than to take care of the huge danger the talibans are for our world.
P.S. So there is some little continuation on the subject. Check the second article. I'm glad somebody finally spoke out for Afghani people-they really deserve support and help.

Evidence Points to Civilian Toll in Afghan Raid

Published: September 7, 2008

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

“The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth,” he said in a statement.

The military investigation drew on what military officials called convincing technical evidence documenting a far smaller number of graves than the villagers had reported, as well as a thorough sweep of this small western hamlet, a building-by-building search a few hours after the airstrikes, and a return visit on Aug. 26, which villagers insist never occurred.

The repercussions of the airstrikes have consumed both the Afghan government and the American military, wearing the patience of Afghans at all levels after repeated cases of civilian casualties over the last six years and threatening to erode their tolerance for the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad on Thursday to pay his respects to the mourners, condemning the strikes, and vowing to arrest an Afghan he says misled American forces with false intelligence.

President Bush expressed his regrets and sympathy in a call to Mr. Karzai on Wednesday. And General McKiernan has issued several statements voicing sorrow for civilian casualties.

The Afghan government is demanding changes in the accords defining the United States military engagement in Afghanistan, in particular ending American military raids on villages and halting the detention of Afghan citizens.

“People are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties,” one presidential aide said.

The accounts of the airstrike’s aftermath given by Afghans and Americans could not be further apart.

A visitor to the village and to three graveyards within its limits on Aug. 31 counted 42 freshly dug graves. Thirteen of the graves were so small they could hold only children; another 13 were marked with stones in the way that Afghans identify women’s graves.

Villagers questioned separately identified relatives in the graves; their names matched the accounts given by elders of the village of those who died in each of eight bomb-damaged houses and where they were buried. They were quite specific about who was killed in the airstrikes and did not count those who died for other reasons; one of the fresh graves, they said, belonged to a man who was killed when villagers demonstrated against the Afghan Army on Aug. 23.

Cellphone images that a villager said that he shot, and seen by this reporter, showed two lines of about 20 bodies each laid out in the mosque, with the sounds of loud sobbing and villagers’ cries in the background.

An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike. The doctor, who works for a reputable nongovernmental organization here, at first gave his name but then asked that it be withheld because he feared retribution from Afghans feeding intelligence to the Americans.

The United States military, in a series of statements about the operation, has accused the villagers of spreading Taliban propaganda. Speaking on condition that their names not be used, some military officials have suggested that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites — and, by implication, that other investigators had been duped. But many villagers have connections to the Afghan police, NATO or the Americans through reconstruction projects, and they say they oppose the Taliban.

The district chief of Shindand, Lal Muhammad Umarzai, 45, said he personally counted 76 bodies that day, and he believed that more bodies were unearthed over the next two days, bringing the total to more than 90. Mr. Umarzai has been praised for bringing security to the district in the three months since his appointment and is on good terms with American and NATO forces in the region.

American military investigators said that they had interviewed him and that he had told them that he had no access to the village. But Mr. Umarzai said Taliban supporters came into the village in midmorning after the airstrikes, forcing him and the police to leave the village, but that later he was able to return and attend the burials.

The United Nations issued a statement pointing to evidence it considered conclusive that about 90 civilians were killed, some 75 of them women and children.

Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room.

Yakhakhan, 51, one of several men in the village working for a private security firm, and who uses just one name, said he heard shooting and was just coming out of his house when he saw his neighbor’s sons running.

“They were killed right here; they were 10 and 7 years old,” he said. In the compound next to his, he said, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed. “They bombard us, they hate us, they kill us,” he said of the Americans. “God will punish them.”

A policeman, Abdul Hakim, whose four children were killed and whose wife was paralyzed, said she had told him how an Afghan informer accompanying the American Special Operations forces had entered the compound after the bombardment and shot dead her brother, Reza Khan; her father; and an uncle as they were trying to help her. She said she had heard her father plead for help and ask the Afghan: “Are you a Muslim? Why are you doing this to us?” Then she heard shots, and her father did not speak after that, he said.

A United States military spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, said in an e-mail message that she was unaware of such an allegation, and that the American military did not have Afghan civilian informers accompanying its forces during the mission. Soldiers treated wounded people at the scene, which indicated that the Laws of Armed Conflict were followed, she said.

In a series of statements about the operation, the American military has said that extremists who entered the village after the bombardment encouraged villagers to change their story and inflate the number of dead. Yet the Afghan government and the United Nation have stood by the victims’ families and their accounts, not least because many of the families work for the Afghan government or reconstruction projects. The villagers say they oppose the Taliban and would not let them in the village.

Villagers also challenged the American military’s claims that it successfully conducted its planned operation against a Taliban commander, Mullah Sadiq, and a group of his men.

A man claiming to be Mullah Sadiq called Radio Liberty several days after the raid and declared that he was alive and well and was never in the village of Azizabad that night. Reporters at the radio station, who asked not to be identified, said they knew his voice well and double checked the recording with residents of Shindand and they were sure the caller was Mullah Sadiq.

American military officials have said that the man who called the radio program was an imposter and that they are confident they killed their target.

A senior American officer who has been briefed on the military investigation’s findings said in an e-mail message: “I will simply say that the soldiers — U.S. and Afghan — reported what they saw and found at each building site as they looked for material, weapons, bodies. I cannot explain why later the numbers are so far apart.”

Members of the Afghan government investigation commission said that the Americans were just covering up the truth. “The Americans are guilty in this incident: it is much better for them to confess the reality rather than hiding the truth,” said Abdul Salam Qazizada, a member of Parliament and the government commission from Herat Province, where the village is located.

Villagers suggested that the soldiers just counted those who died in the open and did not try to dig under the rubble. A local journalist, Reza Shir Mohammadi, said that when he visited the village on the second day after the attack, women and children were still weeping at one collapsed house, saying they still had not found their mother and siblings.

The operation in Azizabad once again raises questions for the military about whether it is worth pursuing members of the Taliban with airstrikes inside a densely populated village where civilian casualties and property damage can be so high. A similar raid in the same district by American Special Forces in April 2007, which killed 57 people, led American and NATO commanders to tighten rules on calling in airstrikes on village houses.

“This is not fair to kill 90 people for one Mullah Sadiq,” said Mr. Umarzai, the district chief. source


Afghanistan Is in Its Worst Shape Since 2001, European Diplomat Says

Published: September 14, 2008

GENEVA — One of the most experienced Western envoys in Afghanistan said Sunday that conditions there had become the worst since 2001. He urged a concerted American and foreign response, even before a new American administration took office, to avoid “a very hot winter for all of us.”

The envoy, Francesc Vendrell, a Spanish diplomat with eight years’ experience in Afghanistan, especially criticized the growing number of civilian deaths in attacks by American and international forces.

Those deaths have created “a great deal of antipathy” and widened the distance between the Afghan government and citizens, he said here at an annual review of global strategy organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Mr. Vendrell recently stepped down as the European Union envoy in Kabul.

The United States military is investigating an assertion by villagers in western Afghanistan that some 90 men, women and children died in a missile attack on Aug. 22. The Afghan government and a United Nations investigation have backed that assertion, but American officers have said that only seven civilians were killed.

Mr. Vendrell warned that the situation was precarious among the Pashtun tribes who live mainly in southern Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. He also said that the Taliban-led insurgency had spread not only to the east but also close to Kabul and, in pockets, to the north and west, hitherto relatively peaceful.

While only a minority of Pashtuns actively support the Taliban, he said, most Pashtuns “are sitting on the fence to see who is going to be the winner.”

Because the country faces a number of problems — the rising cost of food and fuel, the deterioration in security and what Mr. Vendrell called the international community’s failure to engage either the Taliban or regional powers like Pakistan, Iran and India in the search for solutions — Afghanistan could be facing “a very cold winter” that threatened to become “a very hot winter for all of us,” he said.

He urged that Afghan authorities and foreign agencies follow up any military successes against the Taliban with concrete assistance to convince local citizens that Westerners and the Kabul government can deliver security and at least some well-being.

Mr. Vendrell bluntly recited what he called a long series of foreign mistakes in Afghanistan. While he played a leading role in the conference in Bonn, Germany, that set up the post-Taliban government, he said Sunday that the “first great mistake” made in 2001 was holding that conference. By the time the Bonn talks took place, he said, Northern Alliance warlords and their allies already controlled two-thirds of Afghanistan, making their rule a “fait accompli.”

In addition, he said, the United States and its allies placed too much faith in President Hamid Karzai and did too little to ensure that his government had a monopoly of force, with a strong police force and other institutions.

Mr. Vendrell’s audience included dozens of security and foreign policy specialists, as well as a smattering of American military officers and some government ministers, including Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister. His alarm about Afghanistan and Pakistan was echoed in conversations at the conference.

source

When you see two reviews of one game in major journal, that sure should make you wonder what it's all about. Or more likely, why?

Here is a resume of the both articles about Spore. I haven't played it yet, since I don't even have time and I'm not sure it will run on Linux, but still it looks promising. And just like other scientists in the second article, I think it's very swift move to promote evolution. I mean, seriously, it's a very logical theory, it's elegant and well, beautiful. It has some flaws, but it's the best we came up yet. The best that is set over facts, not mythology that is. So, I think the game will do good to science at some point. So, now at least, we'll use their tool against them. By "them" i refer to the fanatics, who bug me so hard recently.

And it looks like a fun game. Even if it's not so close to the real scientific simulation, Avida, I still think they could borrow ideas from each other. Evolution as any n-body problem is very serious task for solving and programming, but if you can make it on game and provide freedom to the player, maybe it can be used in real simulations...

In any case, it's good we have scientific games and I'd be happy to play a little on that game. I just don't like it that there is limited successful scenarios, because in real life it's not so simple. And a dominating specie is not so simple idea-because humans might be considered winning specie, because we explore the Earth the most. But from other point of view, we still know so little about other evolved species, like dolphins. We're starting to understand plant life and the compelxity of ants. How can we say who won after all. It's a difficult question.

And the articles in NY Times looks little bit paid to me.

Playing God, the Home Game

Published: September 4, 2008

Best known for his popular evocations of urban sprawl (SimCity) and suburban Americana (The Sims), Will Wright has spent the last eight years trying to figure out how to convey the vast sweep of evolution from a single cell to the exploration of the galaxy as an interactive entertainment experience. His answer, Spore, is being released in stores and online for PCs and Macs in Europe on Friday and in North America this weekend.

Spore both provokes and amuses. And as an agent of creativity it is a landmark. Never before have everyday people been given such extensive tools to create their digital alter ego.

Beginning with all manner of outlandish creatures — want to make a seven-legged purple cephalopod that looks like it just crawled out of somewhere between the River Styx and your brother-in-law’s basement? — and proceeding through various buildings and vehicles, Spore gives users unprecedented freedom to bring their imaginations to some semblance of digital life. In that sense Spore is probably the coolest, most interesting toy I have ever experienced.

But it’s not a great game, and that is something quite different.

People who are more interested in playing Spore than in playing with Spore — that is, people who are more interested in a game than a toy — are likely to come away feeling a bit let down.

Yes, Spore is undeniably gorgeous; Mr. Wright and his development team at Maxis have accomplished a prodigious technical feat with the programming that allows members of Spore’s interstellar menagerie variously to walk, stalk, flop and fly as they befriend and devour one another. For that matter, Mr. Wright and his publishers at Electronic Arts deserve all the credit they have received from some scientists merely for making a game about evolution (though it will be fascinating to see how the game fares among people who do not believe evolution is real). And yes, millions of people will surely spend countless hours, and dollars, on the fabulous computer toy that is Spore. And they should.

Yet like me, many players will end up crestfallen that the genius bestowed on Spore’s creative facilities was clearly not matched by similar inspiration for deeply engaging gameplay. Beneath all the eye candy, most of the basic core play dynamics in Spore are unfortunately rather thin.

At some level that seems by design. As perhaps befits its subject matter, Spore is not one game but a collection of five discrete mini-games, each reflecting a different stage of biological and social evolution and a different archetypal game style.

Life begins in the cell stage, basically a simple prologue. Drifting in the primordial soup, your cell eats pellets (plants or prey) and avoids ghosts (bigger organisms). After maybe 30 minutes (if you survive), you evolve onto land and into the creature stage.

That stage is where Mr. Wright’s team seems to have spent the most effort, and for me it has been by far the most enjoyable and interesting part of the game. The entire Spore project might have been better handled if the cell and creature levels had been released together a couple years ago at a lower price (Spore now costs $49.95), allowing the more pedestrian later phases to receive a comparable level of time and attention as expansions.

Keep in mind that Spore includes no real-time multiplayer;

And so the creature stage rules Spore, because only there can you fully appreciate the range of expression possible using Spore’s tool set. As you explore the planet and meet other players’ progeny, the DNA you collect allows you to customize your creature with any of dozens of different body parts. Various mouths, hands, feet and wings convey different abilities, perhaps singing or dancing (for making allies of other species) or biting or clawing (for fighting).

But Spore goes a bit off the track as it reaches the tribal phase and beyond. Perhaps the biggest problem is that all that time you spent lovingly fine-tuning your otherworldly avatar in the creature phase basically doesn’t matter anymore. After the creature phase the cosmetic appearance of your species is locked in, but the abilities it developed are largely meaningless. Instead, in the tribal stage, you get just a few choices of different weapons and clothing. In the civilization phase you devise airplanes, land vehicles and ships, and in the space phase you obviously make spacecraft. But as Spore goes along, those choices matter less and less in shaping how you can actually play the game.

Progressing out of the tribe and civilization stages requires either conquering or co-opting all the neighboring tribes or cities. These “conquer the world” stories are classic computer game styles, and Spore borrows heavily from the basic mechanics of some of the best strategy games ever made, like Command & Conquer, StarCraft and Civilization.

Once you leap to the space stage, Spore’s strategic gameplay becomes a bit of a hash reminiscent of games like Master of Orion and Galactic Civilizations, only with horrendous, almost carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing interface controls and insufficient tools for managing what is meant to be a galaxy-spanning empire. The exploration and planet-shaping functions of this phase are enjoyable, but they are largely obscured by a gratuitous amount of low-level tasks like warding off pirate invasions and manually moving trade goods from one system to another, over and over. In none of its later stages does the depth of Spore’s play come close to matching the best-of-genre games available in each of the categories it derives from.

In fairness, one could also note a similar lack of depth in the basic play systems of The Sims, which has proven enduringly popular. But there are some intersecting design reasons why that works better in The Sims than in Spore.

Most important, The Sims is profoundly noncompetitive and open ended. The Sims is structured so you can help your family putter around the house forever. There are other families in the neighborhood to interact with, but they aren’t trying to eat your children or burn your house down.

Spore, like real life, is largely about the survival of the fittest. In each stage your species either becomes dominant and evolves, or it becomes extinct (meaning you try over and over again until you “win”). In The Sims making a family dysfunctional is half the fun. In Spore a dysfunctional species basically loses the game. That competitive nature is one reason why, despite its cutesy looks, Spore is aimed both at adults and children. And that competitive aspect is why a relative dearth of rich and interesting play mechanics hurts Spore more than The Sims.

The real frustration with Spore is that the team behind it was capable of such high achievement in the areas it focused on, while other parts languished.

Now if Mr. Wright and the Maxis team just take another few passes through Spore’s later stages and release a big revision patch next year, they may finally end up with a game to match the stellar toy they have already unleashed.

source

Gaming Evolves

Published: September 1, 2008

Correction Appended

NEW HAVEN — By day, Thomas Near studies the evolution of fish, wading through streams in Kentucky and Mississippi in search of new species. By night, Dr. Near, an assistant professor at Yale, is a heavy-duty gamer, steering tanks or playing football on his computer. This afternoon his two lives have come together.

On his laptop swims a strange fishlike creature, with a jaw that snaps sideways and skin the color of green sea glass. As Dr. Near taps the keyboard, it wiggles and twists its way through a busy virtual ocean. It tries to eat other creatures and turns its quills toward predators that would make it a meal.

The chairman of Dr. Near’s department, Richard Prum, watches him play and worries about his reckless lunges.

“You’re just attacking them?” he asks as Dr. Near tries to eat a fat purple worm that looks too dangerous to bother.

“If you kill them, you unlock their parts,” Dr. Near explains. But then the purple worm sticks its syringelike mouth into Dr. Near’s beast and begins to drain its innards. “Uh-oh, I’m about to die,” he says. The screen fades to black.

The next time, Dr. Near’s luck changes. He gains enough points to move to the next level of the game. His creature grows a brain. “Oh man, it’s like I graduated college,” he says. Dr. Near can now alter his creature. He stretches the body to give it a neck. He adds a pair of kangaroolike legs.

His creature — or, rather, a swarm of his creatures — charge out of the ocean and onto land. Dr. Near pushes back the laptop as his creatures find a place to make their nest and lay eggs. “So that’s pretty cool,” he says with a grin not often seen on a professor.

Dr. Near and Dr. Prum have spent a few evenings testing out Spore, one of the most eagerly anticipated video games in the history of the industry. After years of rumors, the game goes on sale Friday. Spore’s designer, Will Wright, is best known for creating a game called the Sims in 2000. That game, which let players run the lives of a virtual family, has sold 100 million copies. It is the best-selling computer game franchise of all time.

Spore, produced by Electronic Arts, promises much more than the day-to-day adventures of simulated people. It starts with single-cell microbes and follows them through their evolution into intelligent multicellular creatures that can build civilizations, colonize the galaxy and populate new planets.

Unlike the typical shoot-them-till-they’re-all-dead video game, Spore was strongly influenced by science, and in particular by evolutionary biology. Mr. Wright will appear in a documentary next Tuesday on the National Geographic Channel, sharing his new game with leading evolutionary biologists and talking with them about the evolution of complex life.

Evolutionary biologists like Dr. Near and Dr. Prum, who have had a chance to try the game, like it a great deal. But they also have some serious reservations. The step-by-step process by which Spore’s creatures change does not have much to do with real evolution. “The mechanism is severely messed up,” Dr. Prum said.

Nevertheless, Dr. Prum admires the way Spore touches on some of the big questions that evolutionary biologists ask. What is the origin of complexity? How contingent is evolution on flukes and quirks? “If it compels people to ask these questions, that would be great,” he said.

Evolution may seem impossible to capture in a computer. It is a hugely complicated process by which millions of individuals change over millions of years, as thousands of genes mutate and are spread by natural selection and other forces. Yet scientists have managed to distill some of the most important features of evolution into the language of mathematics.

In the early 1900s, mathematicians figured out how to represent a population of organisms in simple equations. They used those equations to show how natural selection can spread some genes from one generation to the next. Their work transformed the study of evolution into a modern, rigorous science.

Today, mathematicians use far more sophisticated equations to analyze evolution. And some of their most important insights have come from treating evolution like a giant game. Organisms can evolve different strategies to survive, in the same way game players can choose different strategies to win the most points in a game. Using a branch of mathematics called game theory, scientists can figure out if natural selection will favor a strategy over all others, or if it brings them into a stable balance. Game-theory models have shed light on the evolution of things like human cooperation and the deadly relationship of parasites and their hosts.

Today’s computers make it vastly easier for scientists to build these models. They have also allowed researchers to study evolution by building digital organisms. Scientists at Michigan State University and the California Institute of Technology, for example, have developed software called Avida that allows tiny computer programs to behave like real organisms. They make copies of themselves and mutate (randomly changing lines of programming code).

As the programs process more information in more powerful ways, the mutations are favored by a digital version of natural selection. The Avida team has published a string of papers in leading scientific journals on their experiments, testing ideas about complexity, mass extinctions and even the evolutionary benefits of sex.

Computers have also made it possible for scientists to build simple simulations to help people understand the principles of evolution. This year, for instance, Ralph Haygood, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, built a Facebook application called Evarium that lets users watch flowerlike creatures drift around a box, attracting one another with their colors. They mate and shuffle traits in their offspring, which then go through the same cycle. Players can control how quickly traits mutate and how strongly the organisms are attracted to some traits and not others. Or they can just watch the creatures change each time they open their Facebook page.

Mr. Wright came to the challenge of an evolution game with a long track record of simplifying complex systems without losing the feel of reality.

One thing Mr. Wright and his colleagues decided Spore should reflect was evolution’s ability to produce life’s staggering diversity.

The game begins with a meteorite crashing into a planet, sowing its oceans with life and organic matter. Players control a simple creature that gobbles up bits of debris. They can choose to eat other creatures or eat vegetation or both. As the creature eats and grows, it gains DNA points, which the player can use to add parts like tails for swimming or spikes for defense. Once the creature has gotten big and complex enough, it is ready for the transition to land.

On land, the creatures can grow legs, wings and other new parts. And it is at this point that some of Spore’s features really shine. Mr. Wright’s team has written software that can rapidly transform creatures in an infinite number of ways, as players add parts and alter their size, shape and position.

Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago, was enchanted when Mr. Wright came to show off Spore to him. Dr. Shubin’s own research has helped reveal how real evolution recycles and modifies pre-existing biology to produce different body plans. In 2006 Dr. Shubin and his colleagues reported the discovery of a 370-million-year-old fossil called Tiktaalik that illuminates our ancestors’ transition from sea to land. It offers clues to how our hands and feet evolved from swimming fins.

Dr. Shubin found that Spore gave players a feel for how evolution uses the same basic tool kit to produce different body plans. “Playing the game,” he said, “you can’t help but feel amazed how, from a few simple rules and instructions, you can get a complex functioning world with bodies, behaviors and whole ecosystems.”

Spore embodies another major theme of evolutionary biology: evolution is not a simple kill-or-be-killed affair. If a Spore player ends up with a carnivorous creature, it will certainly do its fair share of killing. But it will not make it very far unless it makes alliances. In Spore, creatures bond by dancing, wiggling and singing. Taking the time to bond allows players to move in packs and herds, which do a better job of fighting off predators and attacking prey.

“You always wonder why life tends to become more complex over time,” Mr. Wright said. “If you look at this balance between cooperation and competition, at almost every level it explains it neatly. You have agents competing at some level. The agents might be cells. At some point the cells can group together and work collectively and outcompete the other ones that are not cooperating. Then competition jumps to the next level. At every level you have to have the right balance between co-op and comp. That balance is driving the organizational complexity.”

Even as scientists praise Spore, they voice concerns about how the game does not match evolution. In the real world, new traits evolve as mutations arise and spread gradually through entire populations. Winning Spore’s DNA points does not work even as a remote metaphor.

“I do hope that it doesn’t confuse people as to what evolution is all about,” said Charles Ofria, a computer scientist at Michigan State University and a creator of Avida.

Spore may also mislead players with the way it is set up as a one-dimensional march of progress from single-cell life to intelligence. Evolution is more like a tree than a line, with species branching in millions of directions. Sometimes species become more complex, and sometimes they become less so. And sometimes they do not change at all. “There’s no progressive arrow that dominates nature,” Dr. Prum said.

These caveats notwithstanding, Dr. Near hopes that Spore prompts people to think about the evolutionary process. “This may be totally off about how evolution works, but I’d much rather be dealing with a student who says, ‘O.K., I have no problem with evolution; I think about it the same way I think about gravity.’ If it does that, it’ll be great.”source

Let's see what we have today:
Nationalisation and lack of political will. My favourites!

  • U.S. Takeover of Mortgage Giants Lifts Stock Markets
  • Facing Veto, Democrats Drop Plan for Vote on Child Bill
Ok, back to capitalist America.
So, we see a nationalisation of a key company. My question is since when it's ok to nationalise companies and nobody to say a thing. Because as far as I remember, Alitalia had huge problems because the Italian government wanted to keep it alive. Those trade rules are really weird.
Anyway, I'm so curious with what exactly the US government will pay for the purchase. Future will show.
The second one is about a health bill for uninsured children. I won't talk to much about it today, but anyway. it's fun to watch Democrats just give up a cause and wait for a better president. That's so brave from them. (for those of you that don't know me, I'm a socialist so obviously, I want this bill to get trough).

U.S. Takeover of Mortgage Giants Lifts Stock Markets


Published: September 8, 2008

Investors around the world breathed a sigh of relief Monday after the American government took over and backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, assuring a continued flow of credit through America’s wounded mortgage system.

Stocks rallied , after the Treasury announced that it would transfer control of the mortgage finance giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to a conservatorship.

In New York, Europe and Japan stock market jumped.

Shares of global banks soared. In Tokyo, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial rose 10 percent, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial climbed more than 15 percent. In Europe, UBS gained 12 percent and Deutsche Bank rose 8 percent and HSBC Holdings added 5 percent.

The dollar and yen weakened in trading against the euro and the British pound, as investors halted a recent flight to the safety of the dollar and yen and began to conclude that European economies might not be in as grave danger as they had seemed last week. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 10 points, to 3.802, amid expectations that the American government will need to issue more debt.

German-listed shares of Fannie and Freddie plummeted in Frankfurt trading, losing about 50 percent of their value.

Investors said the provision in the bailout plan under which the Treasury will begin buying some of Fannie and Freddie’s securities in the open market would help to restore confidence.

But the takeover of the companies also reinforced concerns about troubles of the American economy and highlighted its significant reliance on foreign investors, particularly in Asia.

Almost immediately, the move will protect central banks in Asia, which have amassed hundreds of billions of dollars of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds, from taking big losses. The move should also bode well for American financial institutions and, in the short term, the broader stock market.

Investors said they expected the spread between Treasury securities and comparable Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt to shrink drastically, reflecting renewed faith about the safety of the market.

In recent months that spread, or premium, had ballooned significantly, eroding confidence in the health of the companies. Before the housing crisis, Fannie and Freddie could borrow money at a small premium over the federal government’s rates. “If it becomes like U.S. Treasuries, that is a positive for Asia,” said Ifzal Ali, the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank in Manila.

Treasury’s purchase of mortgage securities may help lower interest rates on home loans, which this summer rose to their highest level in a year. That reduction in housing costs should help cushion the decline in home prices, which have already fallen more than 18 percent from their peak in the summer of 2006, said Bill Gross, the co-chief investment officer of Pimco, the large bond investment firm.

But the plan also raises a host of questions about the fragility of the American economy, which will continue to figure into investor calculations.

Perhaps most important, despite the government support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, any stabilization in home prices is still a way off, and the waves of foreclosures battering the housing market are not likely to reverse right away. What is more, the plan will do little to stem losses in risky home loans, commercial mortgages and debt used by private equity firms to acquire companies. Financial institutions have already taken write-downs of $500 billion and the International Monetary Fund projects that losses could reach $1 trillion.

Stock markets around the world rallied Monday after the federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but even the most optimistic investors worried that other problems in the economy remain unaddressed.

The dollar, which has been appreciating in recent weeks, staged another impressive rally, rising 0.83 percent against a basket of six major world currencies. The biggest move came against the euro, which fell to its lowest level in nearly a year, $1.4106, from $1.4243.

Financial stocks led the surge, propelled by hope that the government’s decision had averted a calamity and marked a possible turning point in the credit crisis that has troubled banks for nearly a year. But investors have led several dizzying rallies this year on hopes that the worst was over, only to find their euphoria was premature.

Some doubts have already begun to emerge over whether the takeover would quickly resolve fundamental problems in the American credit and housing markets.

Federal banking regulators on Sunday told banks to write down the value of those shares, which lost most of their value on Monday, as did the common shares of the two companies.

Still, the decision to place the two companies into conservatorship immediately lowered mortgage rates Monday by helping to drive up the price of bonds they issue. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to about 6.04 percent from 6.34 percent last week, according to HSH Associates, a publisher of mortgage industry data. That is down about 0.65 of a point from July.

But an important financial indicator showed that investors remain worried. The premium investors demand to hold mortgage securities, rather than Treasury notes and bonds, remains higher than what some analysts had expected after the government gave its own backing to those bonds. Those premiums should come down slowly, analysts say.

The Treasury Department said Sunday it would start buying the companies’ bonds, which should also lift prices, said Donald Brownstein, chief of Structured Portfolio Management, a hedge fund firm in Stamford, Conn.

Policy makers believe that by investing in mortgages and backing Fannie and Freddie they will ease the decline in housing prices, which are down 18 percent from their 2006 peak. Mr. Brownstein said that lower rates would help, but would not be sufficient because many would-be homeowners and people looking to refinance cannot qualify for loans, regardless of how low interest rates go.source

Facing Veto, Democrats Drop Plan for Vote on Child Bill

Published: September 7, 2008

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats have scrapped plans for another vote on expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, thus sparing Republicans from a politically difficult vote just weeks before elections this fall.

Before the summer recess, Democrats had vowed repeatedly to force another vote on the popular program. But Democrats say they have shifted course, after concluding that President Bush would not sign their legislation and that they could not override his likely veto.

Mr. Bush vetoed two earlier versions of the legislation, which he denounced as a dangerous step toward “government-run health care for every American,” and the House sustained those vetoes.

Congress returns on Monday for a session expected to last three or four weeks. Lawmakers say they will focus on energy legislation, essential spending bills and efforts to revive the economy and to create jobs.

The fight over the children’s insurance program prefigures a larger legislative debate, expected to start next year, over the future of health care and the role of government in providing it.

The child health program has become an issue in some Congressional races. In almost every speech, Kay Barnes, a Democrat running for Congress in northwest Missouri, criticizes Representative Sam Graves, a Republican, for voting against the bill last year. Mr. Graves said the bill would have allowed illegal immigrants and some high-income people to get “free taxpayer-funded health care.”

House Democrats fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Mr. Bush’s first veto last October, and they were 15 votes short when they tried again in January.

Democrats cited several reasons for their second thoughts about the wisdom of another vote on the child health bill. The cost of the bill has increased, according to the Congressional Budget Office, though the revenues expected from higher tobacco taxes are about the same. Under current rules, Congress would need to find a way to defray the extra cost.

In addition, time is short, and the Congressional calendar is packed with other issues.

Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy group for children, said: “We definitely would prefer for Congress to vote on the legislation next year rather than this year. Why would you pass a bill now when, in six months, you could get a better bill covering more uninsured children?”

Since it was created with bipartisan support in 1997, the program has reduced significantly the number of low-income children who are uninsured.

The Census Bureau reported last month that the number of people under 18 without health insurance had decreased, to 8.1 million in 2007, from 8.7 million in the prior year. Economists say the number could climb this year because of the weak economy and rising unemployment.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill, financed by an increase in tobacco taxes, would reduce the number of uninsured children by 4.4 million by 2013. But at the same time, the budget office says, the bill could encourage some families to substitute public for private coverage, reducing by 2.3 million the number of children who would otherwise have private coverage.

A few House Republicans in tight races might switch sides and vote for the bill, in an effort to win the approbation of voters, Democrats say. But supporters of the bill believe that they would still not have enough votes to override a veto by Mr. Bush.

Hispanic, black and Asian-American members of Congress have complained that the bill does not provide coverage for legal immigrants who are now generally barred from benefits under Medicaid and the children’s health program during their first five years in the United States.

Many Democrats would like to lift those restrictions. But if they tried to do so, they could draw Congress into a bitter debate over immigration policy. source

For all the mammy's out there: My comment: I see reason in that article but remember, this is just a short-term effect. In the long term, it doesn't matter how you had your baby, you will love him/her. And as for me, when it comes time for babies, I'd rather have a C-section. I don't feel exactly thrilled by the idea to have my private parts torn apart by anything.

Delivery Method Affects Brain Response to Baby’s Cry

A new research shows that the method of delivery seems to influence how a mother’s brain responds to the cries of her own baby. The brains of women who have natural childbirth appear to be more responsive to the cries of their own babies, compared to the brains of women who have C-section births.

The finding is based on brain imaging scans conducted two to four weeks after delivery among just 12 women, half of whom had vaginal births and half of whom gave birth by C-section. The study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that the cry of a woman’s own baby triggered significant responses in several parts of the brain related to sensory processing, empathy, arousal, motivation, reward and habit-regulation. The effect was greatest in the brains of women who had delivered vaginally compared to those women who delivered their babies by C-section.

The conclusions that can be drawn from the study are limited because it involved so few women. However, it does support the theory that C-section birth may result in slight delays in attachment, putting those women at slightly higher risk for postpartum depression.

Lead author Dr. James Swain of Yale University’s child study center said the mode of delivery has been associated with decreased maternal behaviors in animals and a trend for increased postpartum depression in humans. It’s estimated that about 30 percent of births in the United States are delivered by C-section, the study says.

It’s important to note that the study measured only short-term differences in brain patterns following childbirth. There’s no evidence that delivery method has any long-term implications on a woman’s ability to parent or bond with her child or recognize her baby’s cry.. source

A great one, dead sea scrolls will be put online in original form and everyone will have access to them. Now that's what I'm talking about. Why I'm happy? Well, we all have seen books that claim they have made an amazing discovery on the origin of Christianity or whatever citing those scrolls. And of course, nobody can check those stories, because it's damn hard to gain access to those pieces of past. Not anymore. Now everyone with enough patience can see them, translate them for him/her self and pursue the truth on his/her own. And that's great!
I can't wait to see the project completed and to have the first results from all the alternative archeologist all over the net. That would be SO fun!

Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet


Published: August 26, 2008

JERUSALEM — In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.

The 2,000-year-old scrolls, found in the late 1940s in caves near the Dead Sea east of Jerusalem, contain the earliest known copies of every book of the Hebrew Bible (missing only the Book of Esther), as well as apocryphal texts and descriptions of rituals of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus. The texts, most of them on parchment but some on papyrus, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.

Only a handful of the scrolls exist in large pieces, with several on permanent exhibit at the Israel Museum here in its dimly lighted Shrine of the Book. Most of what was found is separated into 15,000 fragments that make up about 900 documents, fueling a longstanding debate on how to order the fragments as well as the origin and meaning of what is written on them.

The scrolls’ contemporary history has been something of a tortured one because they are among the most important sources of information on Jewish and early Christian life. After their initial discovery they were tightly held by a small circle of scholars. In the last 20 years access has improved significantly, and in 2001 they were published in their entirety. But debate over them seems only to grow.

Scholars continually ask the Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, for access to them, and museums around the world seek to display them. Next month, the Jewish Museum of New York will begin an exhibition of six of the scrolls.

The keepers of the scrolls, people like Pnina Shor, head of the conservation department of the antiquities authority, are delighted by the intense interest but say that each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity and heat, it deteriorates. She says even without such exposure there is deterioration because of the ink used on some of the scrolls as well as the residue from the Scotch tape used by the 1950s scholars in piecing together fragments.

The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared — and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.

Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.

Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, “every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles.” source

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