Thursday, December 20, 2007

Celebrity gossip juicy celebrity rumors Hollywood gossip blog from Perez Hilton

Celebrity gossip juicy celebrity rumors Hollywood gossip blog from Perez Hilton: "When the National Enquirer reported on July 28th about Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, lawyer's for the Nickelodeon star threatened legal action against the publication.

Now, a source at the Enquirer has leaked us the letter Jamie Lynn's lawyers sent them at the time.

It's priceless!

It reads:

“Ms. Spears is a devout Christian with a spotless reputation, who lives in accordance with the highest moral and ethical standards in accordance with her faith.

There is no “rumor” concerning Ms. Spears’ (non-existent) pregnancy, except perhaps for the baseless “rumor” just now being created by the National Enquirer.

Ms. Spears is not pregnant. It is pathetic for the National Enquirer to attempt to create a wholly baseless “rumor” that Ms. Spears is pregnant, so it can run a malicious story and false story which would be emotionally devastating to a morally upright 16 year old girl.”

Ha ha ha ha!!!!!"

Accept the Pain

So as I go through the mental/emotional landscapes that are fraught with pain and anguish, my brain needs to read obsessively about the methodology I am using. I hope it is finding comfort and believes that this notion of accepting the pain will in fact relieve it of the pain.

So I sat there, when the pain came and my breath got short and that potent debilitating mix of anger, frustration, hopelessness threatens to overwhelm my system's ability to process. And I tried to not process, to not think but instead to accept it as real and mine. The quest continues....

Several concepts are central to Hinduism:

1. The first is karma, which is the principle that governs the unfolding of events and is based for a person on the integrity with which he has lived previous lives. Karma is not imposed by an outside, punitive force, or God, but is rather an “exercise of the moral law in the universe,” these laws being inherently within the universe. Karma is encompassed by God/The Ultimate, as is each person’s soul. As both karma and souls are part of God/The Ultimate, karma is not external to the individual, but each is a part of the same greater whole.

2. A related belief is samsara, the process of successive rebirths until one reaches moksha, the complete release from the cycle of rebirths.

3. Hindu traditions promote living with integrity, causing no harm, and progressing further on a spiritual path by living according to dharma, stage-of-life–appropriate guidelines or “patterns of life,” or by one’s “sacred duty.” A central life’s work is to become detached from overinvolvement in the world that’s apparent to us, which is seen as illusory and temporary, and turn toward God/The Ultimate. Many of these concepts are shared by or are similar to concepts in other eastern religions, for example, Buddhism.


Michael Pollan - Argiculture - Disease Resistant Staph - Concentrated Animal Feed Operations - Sustainability - New York Times: "The first story is about MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association. For years now, drug-resistant staph infections have been a problem in hospitals, where the heavy use of antibiotics can create resistant strains of bacteria. It’s Evolution 101: the drugs kill off all but the tiny handful of microbes that, by dint of a chance mutation, possess genes allowing them to withstand the onslaught; these hardy survivors then get to work building a drug-resistant superrace. The methicillin-resistant staph that first emerged in hospitals as early as the 1960s posed a threat mostly to elderly patients. But a new and even more virulent strain — called “community-acquired MRSA” — is now killing young and otherwise healthy people who have not set foot in a hospital. No one is yet sure how or where this strain evolved, but it is sufficiently different from the hospital-bred strains to have some researchers looking elsewhere for its origin, to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Oh yeah this bodes well

Morgan Stanley to Sell Stake to China Amid Loss - New York Times: "Morgan Stanley posted its first quarterly loss ever on Wednesday after taking an additional $5.7 billion write-down related to subprime mortgages. The investment bank said it would sell a $5 billion stake to the China Investment Corporation, that country’s sovereign wealth fund, to shore up its capital.

The sale, which would give China about a 9.9 percent stake in one of Wall Street’s biggest investment banks, is the latest example of a foreign investor shoring up a Western financial firm in the wake of the housing meltdown."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Screwing the pooch

Closing the mortgage barn door

An important job qualification for a Federal Reserve chairman is the ability to express oneself in a reserved manner. But even by that standard, Ben Bernanke's official statement today accompanying the Fed's announcement of proposed new guidelines for mortgage lenders is impressive.

A highlight:

As the mortgage market has become more segmented and as risk has become more dispersed, market discipline has in some cases broken down and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded.

With that quote ringing in your ears, I strongly recommend readers interested in learning more about how the subprime mortgage embarrassment blossomed to read an ongoing special report put together by Bloomberg News. Part 1, by Mark Pittman, published Monday, zeroes in on a group of Wall Street investment bankers who designed a new subprime mortgage derivatives contract in 2005. Part 2, by Bob Ivry, gets up close and personal with Quick Loan Funding Corp., a subprime lender in Costa Mesa, Calif. that worked overtime making loans to bad credit risks -- in order to satisfy demand from Wall Street (Citigroup in particular) for high-yielding subprime debt.

One quote from Quick Loan's principal, Daniel Sadek, stands out:

"If the loans were so bad, why did Wall Street keep buying them?'' Sadek says.

Elsewhere, Sadek notes that his company made most of its money selling its loans to banks -- who repackaged them into risk-disguising securities that were then resold across the planet.

This is a point that cannot be stressed enough, but keeps getting lost in the overwhelming media coverage that the ongoing housing bust is currently commanding. Incentives to follow prudent lending procedures did not "erode," as Bernanke put it. Incentives to follow imprudent lending procedures flooded the market. Wall Street is at least as guilty, and possibly more so, for creating this mess as the mortgage lenders who made all the dodgy loans and the speculators looking to make a killing or unwise home buyers who took on loans that they couldn't afford. Wall Street created the demand for those loans.

Rape and Pillage

Jesus' General: "Without the rule of law, there is only the rule of force — and wherever the rule of force is in effect, you can be sure that it will be used to reinforce and exploit the privileges of those groups which have traditionally held power over all others. It is thus unsurprising, although terribly disturbing, that women in Baghdad's 'Green Zone' fear to travel alone. I'm not talking about traveling around Iraq and being afraid of insurgents, but traveling around the Green Zone itself and being afraid of Americans."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

First they come for...

Steve Kurtz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Steve Kurtz is a professor of art at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, former professor of art history at Carnegie Mellon University and a founding member of the performance art group, Critical Art Ensemble. He is primarily known for his work in Bio-art, and Electronic Civil Disobedience, and because of his arrest by the FBI in May 2004. Because Kurtz's work often deals with social criticism, many see his treatment by authorities as a form of censorship by the federal government."

Saw this documentary last night. deeply disturbing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Steven Pearlstein - It's Not 1929, but It's the Biggest Mess Since -

Steven Pearlstein - It's Not 1929, but It's the Biggest Mess Since -

"And looking across the sector, J.P. Morgan's CDO analysts estimate that there will be at least $300 billion in eventual credit losses, the bulk of which is still hidden from public view. That includes at least $30 billion in additional write-downs at major banks and investment houses, and much more at hedge funds that, for the most part, remain in a state of denial."

As part of the unwinding process, the rating agencies are in the midst of a massive and embarrassing downgrading process that will force many banks, pension funds and money market funds to sell their CDO holdings into a market so bereft of buyers that, in one recent transaction, a desperate E-Trade was able to get only 27 cents on the dollar for its highly rated portfolio.

Meanwhile, banks that are forced to hold on to their CDO assets will be required to set aside much more of their own capital as a financial cushion. That will sharply reduce the money they have available for making new loans.

And it doesn't stop there. CDO losses now threaten the AAA ratings of a number of insurance companies that bought CDO paper or insured against CDO losses. And because some of those insurers also have provided insurance to investors in tax-exempt bonds, states and municipalities have decided to pull back on new bond offerings because investors have become skittish.

If all this sounds like a financial house of cards, that's because it is. And it is about to come crashing down, with serious consequences not only for banks and investors but for the economy as a whole.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fitness trumps fatness in longevity study - Yahoo! News

Fitness trumps fatness in longevity study - Yahoo! News:
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When it comes to living longer, fitness may trump fatness, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday. Men and women who were fit, as judged by a treadmill test, but were overweight or obese had a lower mortality risk than those of normal weight but low fitness levels, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed."

Social mores

In the course of my job, I end up hearing a far wider variety of living situations and life stories than I heard in my previous job. Mind you, the bulk of my career was spent working for a manufacturer in Massachusetts. While MA is often considered a haven of wild eyed liberals, it actually has the lowest divorce rate in the country and in general some of the most evident social rules of any of the 5 states I have lived in so far. So, that I did not hear very many salacious stories of relationships gone awry is not very surprising.

In the real world though, people seem unfazed by the disasters people regularly create in their lives.I realize the phrasing of that sentence is full of implied judgment. I'm trying to work on my compassion and understanding for my fellow humans and the struggles they go through in this space, but it is a particular challenge for me to take seriously someone who has been married four times. I mean, how does one keep a straight face at the fourth till death do us part ceremony?

Other personal calamities are far easier to understand. These are the ones that challenge some of my deeply held notions around how much control we really do have over our lives. There is so little understood about how the psyche works combined with the infinite complexity that is the family you are born into and the people you meet along the way who color the way you operate in the world. I do believe that there exists some level of universality, but I am at a loss as to where or what the universality is. Even something seemingly obvious like the pursuit of happiness gets awfully fuzzy when you get out in the world and start listening to people and what they say motivates them.

I usually think complexity is beautiful and it drives me to observe further, to try to ponder from different view points and to believe that if I could really see certain threads that connect, I might actually begin to accurately perceive life. I now am starting to think and feel that "accurate" perception is a faulty framework to begin with and this greatly challenges my desire to keep pondering the world around me.

Limbo-from Sunday's flight

I am again flying across the country. Turbulence is fair to middling and I am trying to work. Instead my head is wondering furiously across it's current landscape. I try to focus on my breathing and say "this is it. Wherever you go, there you are. Pay attention to this moment." My head is clearly displeased with this approach. It seems nearly desperate to think about anything but the here and now.

I was at meeting (Society of Friends silent worship) this morning. A woman got up to speak about the importance of being a lamb in terms of faith. That you have to believe that the universe/light/shepherd will guide you better than your ego can.There are many long running themes in my life that I pay particular attention to. This idea of obedience to (fill in the blank) is the correct way to engage the universe and its "plans" for you has always been anathema to me. Instead of rejecting it outright though, I tried very hard to instead observe my visceral reaction to it and see if I couldn't understand why I find this idea so offensive. It was my first experience with the meditation approach that actually shifted in the moment how I was processing something. No real epiphanies, my mind went off in a tangent on why obedience to/faith in any external authority is useless. I then thought of the section of Eat, Pray Love where she walks through the idea that the way to the universal divinity is to go inward, not outward. I didn't engage my mind with this rebuttal although I am now trying to incorporate the possibility of an inward guide into my model.The approach to this is supposedly to accept the thinking mind as it is, but to try to observe it without judgment and with compassion. This is why I did not immediately try to rebut my mind's response to the obedience question. I was trying to observe the way it worked.

The funniest thought that happened was "what if I don't like the mind if I am successful in actually seeing it?"