Archive for January, 2008


Thursday, January 31st, 2008

This year in the U.S., both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address occur on the same day. And as it has been pointed out:

It is an ironic juxtaposition of events: one involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little intelligence for prognostication, while the other involves a Groundhog.

Price Tag Can Change The Way People Experience Wine, Study Shows

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

– Would everyone who thinks they can appreciate the better things in life and who trusts their own brain, please raise your hands?

– Yes, fine. I see that’s most of you. Well, please go on and read this article – you may find it helps you over these impairments.

– And my friends laughed when I told them that sometimes I drank wine-in-a-box.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

In what will be music to the ears of marketers, the old adage that you get what you pay for really is true when it comes to that most ephemeral of products: bottled wine.A little giggly, you aficionado, you?

According to researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology, if a person is told he or she is tasting two different wines—and that one costs $5 and the other $45 when they are, in fact, the same wine—the part of the brain that experiences pleasure will become more active when the drinker thinks he or she is enjoying the more expensive vintage.

“What we document is that price is not just about inferences of quality, but it can actually affect real quality,” said Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing who co-authored a paper titled “Marketing Actions Can Modulate Neural Representations of Experienced Pleasantness,” published online Jan. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “So, in essence, [price] is changing people’s experiences with a product and, therefore, the outcomes from consuming this product.”

– More (if you can stop laughing at yourself)…

UBS Reports Record Loss After $14 Billion Writedown

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

– This story is not remarkable in and of itself. There are always financial reversals and some of them can be quite uncomfortable for those affected.

– What I find notable here is that this story is part of a pattern that’s been growing for months now. I can’t recall a time when so many stories of financial losses have appeared. The world’s financial markets certainly have a lot of resilience and protections built into them – not to mention the vested interests of those who participate in them and who therefore want to see them healthy. But there must be a limit somewhere to just how many hits the markets can take without deep instability setting in.

– Here are a list of such stories plucked from the ever passing river of world news and data:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

UBS Reports Record Loss After $14 Billion Writedown

FDIC Approves the Assumption of all the Deposits of Douglass National Bank, Kansas City, Missouri

Banks may need $143 billion in fresh capital

French Bank Rocked by Rogue Trader

SunTrust: $555 Million in Write-Downs

Wachovia profit falls further than expected (98%)

BofA: $5.28 Billion in CDO Write-Downs

Writedowns Surpass $100 Billion

– I could go on, but need I say more?…

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

– This article gives a great overview of how human consumption of meat is affecting the world. It is one of the many stories, woven of interconnections and interdependencies that form the world around us, that so many of us are ignorant of.

– I think the article is over optimistic, however, about people getting smarter about meat consumption.

– The world’s richer people will continue to consume meat much as they have. And the world’s nouveau rich, in India and China, among other places, will also step up to the table and attempt to match the meat consumption patterns of the US and Europe. This will, inevitably, drive up grain prices to feed all of these feed-lot animals and that, along with the current fad of growing crops for ethanol fuels, will further raise the prices poor folks have to pay for their food.

– So long as the rich can pay for higher priced food comfortably and so long as they hope that growing crops for ethanol will allow them to avoid the consumption down-sizing that Peak Oil implies, these trends will continue. And long before the rich say, “enough”, the poor will have been priced out of the food market and the resulting social unrest will be well underway.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.

It’s meat.

The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally — like oil — meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.

Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.


– thx to Mike M. for pointing this story out to me.

– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

Power chaos in South Africa

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

– Over the last week or two, I’ve seen a number of stories coming out of South Africa about power shortages there.

South Africa– Our societies and their infrastructures are like a house of cards in many ways. We build them higher and wider all the time and the number of interrelationships and dependencies within them grows as well. To keep it all going requires constant reevaluation to ensure that everything required is coordinated and working well.

– Apparently, the government in South Africa has dropped the ball with regard to ensuring the country has sufficient electrical power – a process that takes long-term planning and constant reevaluation.

– I think we can expect more of this because (1) it is getting more difficult to keep all our systems up and running as they get more complicated, (2) as the world becomes a tougher place, the ideologies of those moving up into power are becoming more demagogic and such such simplicity is not compatible with the requirements of running complex societies, and (3) the inputs to the systems we are trying to maintain in our societies are becoming less reliable. We have less food, less water, worse weather, more population and the list goes on and on.

– I think we need to expect increasing breakdowns.

= = = = = = = = = = =

Links to stories on the South African situation:

SA facing ‘critical’ power shortage

Supply of generators dries up

South African mines look for power shortages to end

And now for something completely different…

Monday, January 28th, 2008

South Korea holds breath as singer drops trousers

SEOUL (Reuters) – An aging South Korean crooner stunned a live, national TV audience on Friday by dropping his trousers and saying he was ready to prove he had not been castrated or dismembered in a love quarrel.

Na Hoon-a, who can still fill concert halls with legions of his middle-aged fans, spoke at a packed news conference to deny rumors he had been castrated or had his penis cut off by a Japanese “yakuza” gangster.

Media reports have said the gangster was angry the 60-year-old singer had a fling with one of his favorite South Korean actresses.

“Do I have to show you, or would you just believe me?” Na asked.

Saying he was ready to prove he had not been damaged “down there”, he jumped on a table, slightly lowered his pants and was revealing his underwear when the live TV broadcast cut away, with surprised reporters heard shrieking in the background.

Internet sites were quickly flooded with office workers who had put their assignments on hold to gather around TV sets and housewives who found new excitement in daytime programming wanting to know the results — which were inconclusive.

Na, whose act draws the same sorts of audiences as British singer Tom Jones, pulled his pants back up and did not expose himself.

Na’s story has been the fodder of popular daily newspapers that traffic in celebrity gossip over the past several days.

“He should have just gone all the way to prove the rumors are false and sue all the reporters that started it,” one Korean said in an Internet discussion board.

To the (most) original story…

Many British Muslim Women Embrace Political Islam

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Two and a half years after British-born Muslims carried out suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people, British authorities are worried about the growing number of Muslim youth turning their backs on mainstream British society.

Most surprising is that many second-generation daughters of South Asian immigrants are embracing a political form of Islam.

Some say British Muslims have felt a growing sense of alienation since Sept. 11, 2001, and the London bombings, which has inspired some to segregate themselves from mainstream society and to greater assert their Muslim identity.

The ‘Muslim Woman’s Dilemma’

At the Islam Channel TV network, located in a sleek glass and steel building near London’s financial district, the reporters are mostly women — all with their heads covered. Some reveal only their eyes underneath black veils.

The network broadcasts a talk show called, “The Muslim Woman’s Dilemma.” Host Aamna Durrani wears a headscarf tightly wrapped around her head that falls into soft drapes over her shoulders.

Durrani was born in London to Pakistani parents and is increasingly asserting her Muslim identity, especially since 9/11 and the 2005 London suicide bombings that led to what she says are draconian anti-terrorism laws.

“My allegiance to the Muslim ummah, the community, definitely has got a lot, lot stronger as a result of the war on terror. And it has made the sense of solidarity throughout the world a lot stronger — and definitely for Muslim women here in Britain. It has really made us think where our loyalties lie,” Durrani says.

Growing Alienation from British Society

Analysts here say another cause of local Muslims’ growing alienation has been Britain’s role in the war in Iraq. They say it has inspired many young Muslims to segregate themselves from mainstream society.

A 2006 Pew poll showed 81 percent of Muslims surveyed considered their Islamic identity more important than being British. Like some others, Durrani says she would take part in the electoral process only if it were based on Islamic law and the Koran.


‘Huge’ gas field found off Brazil

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

– I personally don’t think that a Peak Oil crises is going to come to a sudden head.  So long as global systems remain mostly intact, those who produce oil will work ever harder and harder to meet demand as prices rise – driven ever onward by the rising prices.

– No, when things unravel, I think it will be from a series of small cuts that will begin to impact the functioning of the overall system.  And, as their cumulative impact builds into a positive feedback cycle, we will find that the transition happens rather quickly.

– The way that  the current financial crises is developing, one could imagine that it could progress to the point where it begins to feed back strongly on itself and the results could be bad.

– But, that’s not why I’m writing this piece.   I wanted to tell you about a new gas field that’s been found off the coast of Brazil.  it’s the second major find there in recent months.

– It is these kinds of things that makes me think that the Peak Oil crises will come on slowly and that long before we feel deep pain from it, something else will have unraveled to much greater effect elsewhere.

= = = = = = = = = = =

A huge natural gas field has been found a short distance off Rio de Janeiro’s coastline, Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, says.

The company believes the new field, Jupiter, could match the recently discovered Tupi oil field in size.

Tupi is thought to be one of the largest fields discovered in the past 20 years.

But Petrobras officials say further work needs to be done to establish Jupiter’s exact dimensions.

The new field is located just 37km (23 miles) from Tupi, some 5,100m (5,600 yards) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, around 290km from Rio de Janeiro, Petrobras says.

While not providing any specific details on the size of the new reserve, Petrobras said “its structure could have dimensions similar to Tupi”.

Petrobras estimates Tupi contains between five and eight billion barrels of light oil.


Your mind, what is it – really?

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

We very often think that ‘our mind’ is all the chatter and thought we experience in our heads. But, a simple bit of introspection can reveal a deeper truth.

Sit quietly in a place without distractions and watch what’s happening inside your mind.

Buddha mindNow, conceive of your mind as a bowl and this bowl is the container and the thoughts are the things in the container.

If you try, as meditation masters suggest, you can after some effort, suppress your thoughts and experience passages of time in which your inner environment is nothing but silence.

At first, it will be quite difficult and even the shortest span of quiet will be greeted by a thought breaking the spell and saying, “Wow, it is really quiet in here”.

But, if you persevere, eventually you will be able to maintain the quiet spaces for periods of greater length.

The key thing to note and consider is this. The mind is still there once you’ve quieted it. The mind that remains is simply awareness without content. This is what the mind really is.

If you doubt this assertion and you think the mind should rightly be considered the thoughts, then remember the image of the bowl and ask yourself if the thoughts could exists without the bowl that encloses them?

The answer is no. The bowl remains, whether it is filled with the chatter of thoughts or not. It is the thoughts that can be added or subtracted from the awareness that the mind is. Not the reverse.

Most of us believe we are the mind’s chatter but it isn’t so. At core, we are the undifferentiated awareness that underlies the chatter.

There’s great peace in your world when you begin to gain some facility in knowing this difference. You can develop the ability to see your mind as a tool or a calculator and you can learn to turn it on when you need it and leave it off most of the rest of the time.

It’s your life and it is just a skill that takes a bit of practice. Why not take it up and give yourself some peace?

It’s an opportunity that’s right in front of you, free. And that’s a good deal cheaper than that next self-help book you want to buy to glance at briefly and the set on your bookshelf with your collection of such books to impress your friends.  As if knowledge could be owned rather than lived.

Massive wind farm ‘turned down’

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

– The logic of the authorities in the British Isles is amazing, to say the least. 

– Back on 12Jan08, I wrote a piece on the folks in Wales going ahead with the biggest open coal mine in the British isles.

– And now, here in Scotland, they’re refusing to build wind mills for power generation because they want to preserve the local wetlands.  Bloody amazing.

– One has to wonder how much the coal industry may have supported the one and opposed the other with big money back-room arm-twisting.   

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Plans to build one of Europe’s biggest wind farms on the Isle of Lewis are set to be turned down, BBC Scotland understands.

The BBC’s Gaelic news service, Radio nan Gaidheal, has learned that Scottish Government ministers are “minded to refuse” the 181 turbine scheme.

More than 5,000 letters of objection to the proposals were received by the Scottish Government.

It is believed environmental concerns are behind the decision.

An official announcement from the Scottish Government is not expected for a further two or three weeks.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No final decision has been taken and ministers are working towards finalising and announcing a decision in the near future.”

A spokesman for Lewis Wind Power said they welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to make a swift decision on the application.

He said: “We continue a dialogue with Scottish Government officials about our application.”

Campaigners had warned the wind farm would cause “irreversible damage” to one of the country’s most important wetland sites.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also opposed the project, disputing job figures put forward by developers Lewis Wind Power and raising concerns about the farm’s impact on local wildlife.

Supporters of the turbines pointed to potential economic benefits, claiming more than 400 jobs would be created during construction.