Search This Blog

January 29, 2011

Best of TED: Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team

Tom Wujec presents some surprisingly deep research into the "marshmallow problem" -- a simple team-building exercise. Funny and curious!

Best of TED: Denis Dutton - A Darwinian theory of beauty

Andrew Park illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.

Best of TED: Dan Phillips - Creative houses from reclaimed stuff

Builder Dan Phillips tours us through a dozen homes he's built in Texas using recycled and reclaimed materials in wildly creative ways. For those considering some refurbishing worth having a look.

Best of TED: Barry Schwartz - Using our practical wisdom

Barry Schwartz dives into the question "How do we do the right thing?" he shares stories that illustrate the difference between following the rules and truly choosing wisely.

Suez Canal Oil Choke Point

The Suez Canal crosses the Suez isthmusImage via Wikipedia
Why the recent developments in Egypt can send the world in recession or worst.
Egypt can seem a Middle East or North African problem catching our headlines for few days and then disappearing but in reality depending on how this revolution will develop can practically bring the entire world in recession.
Why Egypt is vital to the global economy is due to the Suez Canal, even if not that important today as it used to be it still represents one of the main oil choke-points in the world.
Petroleum (both crude oil and refined products) accounted for 16 percent of Suez cargos, measured by cargo tonnage, in 2009. An estimated 1.0 million bbl/d of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed northbound through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea in 2009, while 0.8 million bbl/d travelled southbound into the Red Sea.
With only 1,000 feet at its narrowest point, the Canal is unable to handle the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers) and ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) class crude oil tankers.

The 200-mile long SUMED Pipeline, or Suez-Mediterranean Pipeline provides an alternative to the Suez Canal for those cargos too large to transit the Canal. The pipeline moves crude oil northbound from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and is owned by Arab Petroleum Pipeline Co., a joint venture between the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC, and Kuwaiti companies.

Closure of the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline would divert tankers around the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, adding 6,000 miles to transit.

Even a temporary blockade of the flow of oil would cause oil prices to spiral upwards, yesterday as news from Egypt were coming through the price of oil went above $100 immediately. A longer disruption could case an already weak economy to down spiral in recession. 
Currently the most worrisome scenario is in Europe since it is more affected by a possible blockade of the Suez Canal.
The question is, if this happen what Europe will do about it, it will start a military intervention as in the Suez Crisis in 1956 to re-establish transit and vital energy supplies, any alternative route or source is not viable at the moment in the short and medium term and waiting too much to re-establish supplies would cause devastating damage to an already feeble economy. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

January 28, 2011

ECB dismiss Ireland renegotiation talks

German Logo of the ECB.Image via Wikipedia
Political attempts in Ireland to get the IMF/EU bail out deal renegotiated were dismissed by the European Central Bank last night which warned that reneging on the deal was not an option.
Fine Gael and Labour, the two parties expected to form the new Irish government, have both made renegotiation of the deal an election issue.
But Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, an executve board member of the ECB, last night said it was not possible.
He also said Ireland's case was made more difficult because it refuses to raise its corporate tax-rate from 12.5 per cent.
"What looks strange is that Ireland wants to stick to its own tax system but then doesn't want the taxpayer to pay for it when things go wrong...I think it's right that Ireland should choose its own tax system but then it has to have the ability to stand by it when things go wrong, when corporation tax collapses because of a crisis," he told RTE's Primetime which can be seen here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

USA at risk of credit downgrade

Moody's expressed concern about the new configuration of the US Congress, saying it could reduce the chances of an agreement to rein in the deficit
Moody's has warned that it may have to apply a negative outlook to America's top-notch AAA credit rating because of the US government's failure to tackle its growing budget deficit.

further details here

3 Trillion- Dollar War

What are the direct and indirect costs of a war and who profits most from it, a nice chart on the ballooning war in Iraq and its financial impact:

full size image available here

Japan’s Credit Rating Cut to AA- by S&P

Graph showing National Debt of Japan from Apri...Image via Wikipedia
Japanese Debt Time Bomb

It's only a matter of time before Japan's debt problem matters in a serious way. However, it's important to note that it's only been a matter of time for the last decade as well.

The key to understanding the urgency now is the warning from Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda that Japan's debt burden has risen to a point where Japan can’t rely on bond sales to cover revenue shortfalls.

Japan has reached the point where its savers need to draw down their savings in retirement, and thus need to sell Japanese government bonds, not buy them. However, the Japanese government has squandered those savings (and 100% more of GDP as well) building bridges to nowhere fighting deflation.

Nations often default on foreign debt, but this is debt the government owes the Japanese people.

Will Japan embark on a huge austerity program in the midst of deflation? Will Japan simply print the money? If so, what happens to interest rates?

Should those interest rates rise to a mere 3% or so, interest on Japan's national debt will consume most of its revenue.
The crucial question is how long can Japan sustain a debt-to-GDP ratio near 200% with an increasingly aging population and a stagnant economy.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sarkozy slams JP Morgan chief

Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at the congress of hi...Image via Wikipedia
Way to go Mr. Sarkozy, pitiful though that his rant will fall in oblivion by tomorrow, you are right we are living in a madhouse and moral hazard is the rotten pillar on which corporations are built upon.

Sarkozy talking to Dimon, JP Morgan Chief as reported by Reuters:

“The world has paid with tens of millions of unemployed, who were in no way to blame and who paid for everything. It caused a lot of anger. Too much is too much. The world was stupefied to see one of five biggest U.S. banks collapse like a house of cards. We saw that for the last 10 years, major institutions in which we thought we could trust had done things which had nothing to do with simple common sense. That’s what happened… There is an ocean between flexibility and the scandal we saw. So if people present me as obsessed with regulation, it’s because there is a need for regulation. I don’t contest the principle of securitisation, but when one offshore country guaranteed 700 times its GDP, are we in the market economy or in a madhouse? Bonuses don’t bother me, provided there are also … draw-downs when there are losses. When things don’t work, you can never find anyone responsible. Those who got bumper bonuses for seven years should have made losses in 2008 when things collapsed.“
Enhanced by Zemanta

January 27, 2011

FCIC Report on the Financial Crisis released

Just released the FCIC report on the financial crisis, here conclusions and full report in PDF.

The Commission concluded that this crisis was avoidable. It found widespread failures in financial regulation; dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance; excessive borrowing and risk-taking by households and Wall Street; policy makers who were ill prepared for the crisis; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels. Here we present what we found so readers can reach their own conclusions, even as the comprehensive historical record of this crisis continues to be written.

The full report can be downloaded here

Unsecured IP security cameras

Easy Connect Wireless IP cameraImage via Wikipedia
An interesting article on the latest security hole in video surveillance:

Surveillance systems are gaining more online functionality every year. Because so many cameras and surveillance systems are completely open, it's possible for anyone with Internet access to watch literally thousands of cameras online using only Google. With a little time and patience, almost any given system, from a set of residential cameras to those used by your local police, can be accessed, viewed, and even reset if not properly secured.

Though they are relative newcomers to the surveillance market, IP cameras caught on quickly and are rapidly stealing market share and consumer preference from traditional (analog) cameras.

IP cameras often present an attractive alternative. Using the same basic technology that your computer uses, IP cameras take their own IP addresses and stream video directly onto a network without connecting to a DVR or control platform.

Once an IP camera is installed and online, users can access it using its own individual internal or external IP address, or by connecting to its NVR (or both). In either case, users need only load a simple browser-based applet (typically Flash, Java, or ActiveX) to view live or recorded video, control cameras, or check their settings.

Regardless of where a system is installed, if it has any online presence whatsoever, it’s vulnerable. All it takes is time and some skillful Googling to gain access.

Finding IP cameras with Google is surprisingly easy. Though the information the search engine provides on the cameras themselves is typically little more than an IP address and a camera name or model number, Google still provides those who know how to ask with extensive lists of IP cameras and Web-enabled surveillance systems throughout the world.

Some cameras are even easier than that. For instance, though a search for “intext:’MOBOTIX M10’ intext:’Open Menu’” will bring up direct links for M10s that are online and ready to be viewed, simply searching “Mobotix M10,” the make and model of the camera returns basically the same results. It’s just a matter of knowing which cameras are online and how their remote viewers are structured. Though some of the links will be to cameras that are password protected or to cameras that were deliberately left open for public viewing, the vast majority will belong to users who intended them to be private.
As IP cameras became more popular and this Google trick became better known, entire communities sprung up around finding and watching unsecured cameras; many larger forums (such as 4chan and SomethingAwful) have had large threads on the topic.

Regardless of the makes or models of their cameras, administrators can easily lock unauthorized users out of their cameras simply by enabling the onboard security that DVRs, NVRs, and IP cameras come with and by changing their default usernames and passwords (especially important since the default combinations are easily available on manufacturers' websites). The specific ways to do this vary from system to system, but the method is always covered in the manual.

Still, as those who are reading this article on their neighbor’s unsecured wireless network can tell us, there will always be users who just don’t bother to read the manual or who just never get around to setting up even basic security, so there will also be those who make a hobby of finding and watching these cameras.

read the full article here
Enhanced by Zemanta

Global illicit trades 2011

If you thought the most profitable illicit trade was drugs or weapons well think again:

Rough estimated market size of illicit
goods based on public sources
(in USD billion)

Counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs: 200
Prostitution: 190
Marijuana: 140
Counterfeit electronics: 100
Cocaine: 80
Opium and heroin: 60
Web video piracy: 60
Software piracy: 50
Cigarette smuggling: 50
Human trafficking: 30
Environmental crimes and natural resources trade: 20
Logging: 5
Art and cultural artefacts: 5
Small arms: 1

Source: Havocscope and experts

China's new Megacity: 42 millions

China to create largest mega city in the world with 42 million people

China is planning to create the world's biggest mega city by merging nine cities to create a metropolis twice the size of Wales with a population of 42 million.

City planners in south China have laid out an ambitious plan to merge together the nine cities that lie around the Pearl River Delta.
The "Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One" scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.
The new mega-city will cover a large part of China's manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.
Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

read full article here

Global Risks 2011 - World Economic Forum

New Report Warns Current Global Governance Systems Lack Capacity to Deal with Global Risks.

As every year at the start of the Davos Forum the annual Global Risks 2011 is issued, this year before the start of the forum.

a full PDF copy of the report is available here

Global debt estimated at $80Trillions

New interesting figures ahead of the Global Risk Report 2011 which will be published later today, estimates for the amount of global debt is now increasing to 80 trillions USD, of course not counting the hundreds of trillions of derivatives.

Food crisis mapped

For those who want to follow in real time the evolving food crisis an useful link below:

click on image above

Food Expenditure shares

How the recent spike in food prices will affect single nations, check the expenditure percentage on food of european countries below.

How Severe Is Europe's Debt Crisis?

PBS Newshour analysis of the Euro crisis, worth watching:

Academy Awards Nominees 2011

83rd Academy Awards Nominees

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
  • Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
  • James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
  • John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
  • Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
  • Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
  • Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
  • Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
  • Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
  • Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
  • Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film

  • “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
  • “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
  • “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Art Direction

  • “Alice in Wonderland”
    Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
    Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Inception” 
    Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
  • “The King’s Speech” 
    Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
  • “True Grit” 
    Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh


  • “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
  • “Inception” Wally Pfister
  • “The King’s Speech” Danny Cohen
  • “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “True Grit” Roger Deakins

Costume Design

  • “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
  • “I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
  • “The King’s Speech” Jenny Beavan
  • “The Tempest” Sandy Powell
  • “True Grit” Mary Zophres


  • “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
  • “The Fighter” David O. Russell
  • “The King’s Speech” Tom Hooper
  • “The Social Network” David Fincher
  • “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Documentary (Feature)

  • “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
  • “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • “Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • “Killing in the Name” Nominees to be determined
  • “Poster Girl” Nominees to be determined
  • “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
  • “Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
  • “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Film Editing

  • “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
  • “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
  • “The King’s Speech” Tariq Anwar
  • “127 Hours” Jon Harris
  • “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Foreign Language Film

  • “Biutiful” Mexico
  • “Dogtooth” Greece
  • “In a Better World” Denmark
  • “Incendies” Canada
  • “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria


  • “Barney’s Version” Adrien Morot
  • “The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Music (Original Score)

  • “How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
  • “Inception” Hans Zimmer
  • “The King’s Speech” Alexandre Desplat
  • “127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
  • “The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Music (Original Song)

  • “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
  • “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
  • “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
  • “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Best Picture

  • “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
  • “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
  • “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
  • “The King’s Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
  • “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
  • “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
  • “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
  • “Winter’s Bone” Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Short Film (Animated)

  • “Day & Night” Teddy Newton
  • “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
  • “Let’s Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
  • “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
  • “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

Short Film (Live Action)

  • “The Confession” Tanel Toom
  • “The Crush” Michael Creagh
  • “God of Love” Luke Matheny
  • “Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
  • “Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Sound Editing

  • “Inception” Richard King
  • “Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing

  • “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • “The King’s Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • “Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
  • “The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
  • “True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects

  • “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • “Winter’s Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
  • “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
    Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • “The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

Wheat futures at 29-month highs

Dow Jones reports that wheat futures just hit a 29-month highs on "strong global demand." Per the newswire, Algeria bought 800,000 tons of milling wheat, with traders estimating the nation's purchases for January at about 1.8M. Turkey and Jordan bought wheat last week after rising food prices helped fuel unrest in Tunisia. It seems the rush to the supermarket to hoard food before the tempest has started, they know prices will skyrocket and a lot of fragile developing nations are scared of social tensions and open riots in the coming months.
After all Tunisia was a very efficient police state, we can only wonder what mayhem will be unleashed in failed states and more fragile countries.

January 26, 2011


Low-temperature electron micrograph of a clust...Image via Wikipedia
A group of students at Hong Kong's Chinese University are making strides towards storing vast amounts of information in an unexpected home: the E.coli bacterium better known as a potential source of serious food poisoning.
Biostorage -- the art of storing and encrypting information in living organisms -- is a young field, having existed for about a decade.
The group has developed a method of compressing data, splitting it into chunks and distributing it between different bacterial cells, which helps to overcome limits on storage capacity. They are also able to "map" the DNA so information can be easily located.
This opens up the way to storing not only text, but images, music, and even video within cells.
As a storage method it is extremely compact -- because each cell is minuscule, the group says that one gram of bacteria could store the same amount of information as 450 2,000 gigabyte hard disks.
The team have even coined a word for this field -- biocryptography -- and the encoding mechanism contains built-in checks to ensure that mutations in some bacterial cells do not corrupt the data as a whole.

read more here
Enhanced by Zemanta

January 25, 2011

Global Unemployment Trends in 2011

Vehicle registration plates of the People's Re...Image via Wikipedia
ILO data provides an alarming picture of joblessness, especially among the young, that surely threatens more political instability

Read the full report

A jobless recovery. Entrenched levels of high unemployment among the young. More than 1.5 billion people – half the global working population – in vulnerable or insecure jobs.
Those are the key findings of the latest health check on employment trends across the world released by the International Labour Organisation last night.
The ILO report makes depressing reading. Despite a relatively robust pick-up in growth during 2010, economic recovery made virtually no dent in the unemployment caused by the worst recession in the global economy since world war two. The official jobless figure stood at 205 million in 2010, but that is almost certainly an underestimate since many of those who would like a job have given up hope of finding one, while millions more are working part-time when they would prefer full-time employment.

download a pdf of the full report here
Enhanced by Zemanta

Avatar sequels to be released in 2014

Avatar back in 2014

Avatar parts two and three will be shot back to back and released in December 2014 and 2015 respectively, director James Cameron has revealed.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly at the Producers Guild awards in Los Angeles at the weekend the film-maker said he was currently hard at work on the screenplays for the two features.
The film-maker has previously hinted that the second film might take place on another planet in the same solar system as Pandora, the fertile forest moon upon which Avatar's action took place. He has also mentioned the possibility of exploring the planet's oceans. Cameron was staying tight-lipped about further details at the weekend but revealed that characters which survived the first film "get to be in the second film, at least in some form".
Enhanced by Zemanta

Energy and food crisis all over again?

Rising prices, powerful storms, severe droughts and floods, social unrest and depletion of resources will be the main themes for 2011.

Prices of basic food staples are already approaching or exceeding their 2008 peaks, that year when deadly riots erupted in dozens of countries around the world.
It’s not surprising then that food and energy experts are beginning to warn that 2011 could be the year of living dangerously -- and so could 2012, 2013, and on into the future. 

Put simply, global consumption patterns are now beginning to challenge the planet’s natural resource limits.  Populations are still on the rise, and from Brazil to India, Turkey to China, new powers are rising as well.  With them goes an urge for a more American-style life.  Not surprisingly, the demand for basic commodities is significantly on the rise, even as supplies in many instances are shrinking. 
Breadbaskets without Bread
Let’s begin with food, the most important and volatile of these commodities.  Food prices declined in October 2008 after the onset of the global financial crisis, but that seems to have been an anomaly.  The December 2010 index of global food prices compiled by the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) hit a record 215, one point higher than in the spring of 2008.  (In that index, based on a “bundle” of food staples, a baseline of 100 represents average prices in 2002-2004.) 
As 2011 begins, food experts fear that, within months, prices for key staples will climb above the 2008 threshold and stay there, causing extreme hardship for poor people around the world. 
According to the FAO, by the end of 2010 international corn and wheat prices were already approaching their 2008 peak levels (about $260 and $340 per metric ton, respectively).
Analysts attribute the rise in grain prices to growing demand in both developed and developing nations, along with a number of cataclysmic weather-related events and speculation by investors.  An extreme drought and fierce fires last summer destroyed a large percentage of the wheat crop in Russia and Ukraine, while heavy flooding in India and the inundation of 20% of Pakistan damaged significant parts of the grain output of those countries. At the same time, unusually hot and dry weather suppressed production in a number of other key farming areas.
What makes the picture look so worrisome today are indications that the severity and frequency of extreme weather events appear to be on the rise.  In the past few weeks alone, several such events point the way to serious supply problems ahead.  Most significant has been the unprecedented rainfall and flooding in Australia that put an area more than twice the size of California largely underwater, significantly disrupting wheat cultivation there.  Australia is one of the world’s leading wheat producers.  Unusually dry conditions in the American Midwest and Argentina have also hinted at future problems in grain and corn output.  It’s still too early to predict the size of this year’s grain and corn harvests, but many analysts are warning of a shortfall in supplies, along with sky-high prices.

The Energy Crisis Returns

At the same time, the price of oil is edging toward the $100 mark, making it increasingly profitable for farmers to switch from growing corn for human consumption to growing it for the manufacture of ethanol, which in turn reduces the amount of farm acreage devoted to staples.  Oil would have to fall below $50 per barrel to make the cultivation of corn as a food product competitive with ethanol production -- and that’s not likely to happen.  So even if more corn is produced this year, less will be available for food purposes and the price of what remains is bound to rise.

“Oil prices are entering a dangerous zone for the global economy,” says Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA).  “The oil import bills are becoming a threat to the economic recovery.”

As with food, the rising cost of oil is a product of growing demand, insufficient supplies, and speculative investments.  According to the most recent projections from the IEA, daily global oil consumption in 2011 will average 87.4 million barrels, an increase of about two million barrels from the first quarter of 2010.  Much of the extra demand is coming from China, where a newly-minted middle class is buying automobiles at a record clip, as well as from the United States, where previously cautious consumers are slowly returning to pre-2008 driving habits.

At a time when the oil industry is experiencing declining rates of output at many existing oil fields and finding it ever more difficult to add production, even two million extra barrels per day can be a daunting challenge (and greater demand is expected in the coming years).

Many energy analysts believe that the world is at (or will soon reach) peak oil -- the moment when global petroleum output achieves a maximum sustainable daily rate and begins a long-term, irreversible decline. 

Others contend that higher levels of output are still possible.  Whatever the truth of the matter, at this moment the oil industry is finding it increasingly difficult, and ever more costly, to boost output above current levels.  This, combined with insatiable demand, is driving prices skyward.

Most analysts are expecting a price surge this spring or summer when American motorists hit the road.
The rising price of gas will, in turn, hurt consumers just as they show signs of opening their wallets again.  No less worrisome, oil-importing countries like the United States, Japan, and many in Europe will face soaring bills for fuel imports, further enfeebling economies already suffering from profound weakness.
According to some calculations, oil prices added another $72 billion to America’s mammoth balance-of-payments deficit last year.  Europe had to cough up an additional $70 billion for imported oil and Japan $27 billion.  “It is a very telling story,” says the IEA’s Fatih Birol of recent oil-price data.  “2010 rang the first alarm bells and 2011 price levels could bring us to the same financial crisis times that we saw in 2008.”
Rising food prices leading to riots, protests, and revolts, mounting oil prices, mammoth worldwide unemployment, and a collapsed recovery -- it looks like the perfect set of preconditions for a global tsunami of instability and turmoil.  Events in Algeria and Tunisia give us just an inkling of what this maelstrom might look like, but where and how it will next erupt, and in what form, is anyone’s guess.  A single guarantee: we haven’t seen the last of resource revolts which, in the coming years, could reach an intensity we scarcely imagine today.

read full article here

January 24, 2011

Arctic warming up

Surface temperature anomalies for the period 17 December 2010 to 15 January 2011 show impressive warmth across the Canadian Arctic.
Topsy-Turvy Weather: U.S. Is Frigid, Arctic Balmy

For two winters running, an Arctic chill has descended on Europe, burying that continent in snow and ice. Last year in the United States, historic blizzards afflicted the mid-Atlantic region. This winter the deep South has endured unusual snowstorms and severe cold, and a frigid Northeast is bracing for what could shape into another major snowstorm this week.
Yet while people in Atlanta learn to shovel snow, the weather 2,000 miles to the north has been freakishly warm the past two winters. Throughout northeastern Canada and Greenland, temperatures in December ran as much as 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Bays and lakes have been slow to freeze; ice fishing, hunting and trade routes have been disrupted.
Iqaluit, the capital of the remote Canadian territory of Nunavut, had to cancel its New Year’s snowmobile parade. David Ell, the deputy mayor, said that people in the region had been looking with envy at snowbound American and European cities. “People are saying, ‘That’s where all our snow is going!’ ” he said.

read entire article here

Carbon credits scam shut down by hackers

Are we supposed to feel sorry for the con artists being conned:

The entire EU trading system was shut down last Wednesday, with credits worth €28m missing following a series of highly effective cyber attacks that have plunged the still emerging carbon market into chaos. To make matters worse, the EU's ETS is a serial victim; eco-activist hackers shut down the EU carbon exchange website only six months ago. The European Commission's decision to suspend trading was taken in the wake of break-ins into online accounts in a number of European countries, with the Czech Republic being the latest casualty. The chances of recovering the stolen credits are slim, even more so once the criminals have sold them on. Unlike the money paid for indulgences, carbon credits are nothing more than records in an online account.

read entire article here

China to replace U.S. as top economic power

China to replace U.S. as top economic power says GE CEO

January 21, 2011

For Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, the 130 year-old American industrial behemoth, the financial crisis marked the end of the age of America's economic dominance. "I came to GE in 1982," Mr. Immelt told me this week in Washington. "For the first 25 years, until the bubble crashed in 2007, the American consumer was the definitive driver of the global economy."
But Mr. Immelt said the future will be different. For the next 25 years, he said, the American consumer "is not going to be the engine of global growth. It is going to be the billion people joining the middle class in Asia, it is going to be what the resource-rich countries do with their newfound wealth of high oil prices. That's the game."
A lot of that game will be played in China. At a moment when it is compulsory on the American right to pay homage to the exceptionalism of the United States, Mr. Immelt, a lifelong Republican, is matter-of-fact about China's inevitable rise.
Indeed, reflecting this pragmatism, GE is this week signing a joint venture agreement in commercial aviation with a state-owned Chinese company that -- despite any risk of handing over advanced technology -- will mean sharing some of the most sophisticated airplane electronics.
"It is going to be the biggest economy in the world," Mr. Immelt said of China. "The only question is when."

read entire article here

Ministry of Food in Berlin's Tempelhof Airport

Great project to requalify the former Berlin main airport with a social and evironmentally sound project.

Tempelhof Ministry of Food 2010
The proposal in Berlin is the culmination of the continuous theme of Food and the community, starting from the Miracle of feeding the 5000, a mythical settlement, the Berlin Airlift, and finally the Ministry of Food.
Tempelhof Ministry of Food is a bread and fish production community situated on the old airfield of Tempelhof Airport. The proposal is a joint venture between Edeka and the Berlin State, seeking to help Berlin's current problems of unemployment and social disparity. It aims at the idea of making the unemployed personally sustainable through producing their own food and whilst being a worker in-residence, foster a spirit of co-existence and community, which they bring back to other Berliners.

full details available here

January 23, 2011

Debt buy-back proposals are the start of the end of the Euro

BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 15:  In this photo ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The latest discussions on the Euro front are showing more and more EU and German officials invoking Greece to buy back their debt with money provided by European Structural Funds in order to unload the EU of the burden of keeping afloat the peripheral zombie countries.
It is certainly a good thing for those countries who are at the moment paying the price to sustain the weak Club Med but certainly would mean that if they should succeed they would be able to unload any responsibility in preserving the Euro area and it would make much easier for a single country to exit/be thrown out the Euro if things get sour.
We would rightfully argue that Greece or any other PIIGS would be crazy to buy back their toxic debts and unload the EU creditors, if not for no other reason than getting quick and cheap cash flow, but still we don't know yet how if push come to shovel this buy-back will be set and if forced mechanisms will be implemented by the EU. The reality is the everyone is perfectly aware that the time-bomb is ticking and that all the recent measures have only bought some limited time before a default on the Euro periphery will be inevitable. They are already planning the next move and the recent interviews are functional in defining what will happen when the crisis will reach Spain and Italy, it is no longer a matter of if but when the Euro will start losing pieces. The exit strategy is taking shape these weeks and it will pave the road to the European Council meeting in March.
Reuters wrote the following yesterday:

Der Spiegel magazine also reported in an unsourced reported that the idea of a buy-back, which it said was first raised by the European rescue fund's chief Klaus Regling, had been greeted with sympathy by euro zone finance ministers this week.

Without citing any sources, Der Spiegel said Regling's suggestion stood good chances of becoming reality.

"The measure has good prospects of being signed off as part of a comprehensive package to stabilize the euro zone at the European Council in March," it said in a pre-publication release.

It also cited an unnamed high-ranking German finance ministry source as saying this was a good idea, running counter to official German denials this week.

It is quite clear from this that any alternative solutions like the proposed creation of Euro Bonds or the devaluation of the Euro to support the weakest countries are being quietly ignored, the consequences will be the condemnation of the Euro periphery to decades of stagnant growth and increasing misery while at the same time either creating a two speed Euro or simply expelling from it the debt ridden countries who cannot afford the membership bill.
The next two months will be decisive to the future of Europe and to its very existence.
Enhanced by Zemanta

January 21, 2011

24 Hours Air Traffic

Another Berlusconi's sex scandal, does anyone in Italy care?

Nice article on the degeneration of the country and its leaders, unfortunately as in previous sexual scandals it is doubtful that Berlusconi will face jail time or a trial, all these continuous sex scandals being launched against him are the only weapons left in a rotten country to try and restore some democracy without major uphevals, at the end Mr. Berlusconi will never let go his grasp on the country and its politics, it is a matter of survival; he is perfectly conscious that the exact moment he is leaving the government he will go to jail, his fight is for survival and he will not hesitate to drag with him the country, its democracy and the italian people.

From the Economist:

On January 14th the prime minister learnt that he had been placed formally under investigation, suspected of two offences: paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his position by trying to cover it up.

The solution to this crisis that might suggest itself in most other countries was flatly ruled out by the prime minister on January 18th. “Resign?” he asked journalists. “Are you mad?” Once again, he seems bent on facing down claims that would persuade most normal public figures that the time had come for retirement, perhaps to a monastery. This is the seventh sex scandal in which Mr Berlusconi has been personally implicated. But as the others have shown, the mechanisms that drive out politicians elsewhere do not really apply in Italy, or at least not to Mr Berlusconi

Most political leaders in other countries are persuaded to go before any charges reach the courts by their own followers “for the good of the party”. But since the electoral law introduced by Mr Berlusconi’s previous government in 2005 makes Italian parliamentarians dependent for re-election entirely on their party leaders, who decide where to place candidates on the party lists, such rebellions are almost impossible to organise. This is especially true in the prime minister’s People of Freedom (PdL) movement, many of whose parliamentarians owe their political careers to Mr Berlusconi.

There are two big dangers in this uncertain situation. One is that the government, which has been unable to do much for the past two years because its leader has been repeatedly distracted by problems of his own making, remains inert for months to come, heedless of Italy’s economic problems. The second, perhaps greater, risk, which was suggested by Mr Berlusconi this week, is that he may seek a new mandate to crush the independence of the judiciary in an election that might threaten the very foundations of his 150-year-old country. Poor Italy.

full article here

The cocaine pipeline to USA

The demand for cocaine in USA is destabilizing Central America.

Read here the full article

Organised crime is now the main cause of the bloodshed. Central America forms a bridge between Colombia, the world’s biggest cocaine producer, and Mexico, which is the staging post for the world’s biggest market for the drug—the United States. As pressure has mounted on the mobs, first in Colombia and now in Mexico, Central America has attracted more traffic. Ten years ago it had fewer cocaine seizures than either Mexico or the Caribbean; by 2008 it accounted for three times more than both combined. Over the same period the murder rate rose across the region, doubling in some countries.

The Italian Derivatives Scam: How towns and regions gambled taxpayer's money

Italian Swap Cases Increase as Merrill Lynch, UBS Sue

Italian Swap Cases Increase
Deutsche Bank, UBS and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit in London are suing Lazio, a central Italian region made up of five provinces including Rome, seen here. Photographer: Victor Sokolowicz/Bloomberg
JPMorgan Chase & Co., UBS AG and Bank of America Corp. are among banks bringing more than a half dozen Italian municipalities to London’s courts over swaps that are turning sour for both sides.
The banks are suing towns and regions across Italy, from Florence, a city of about 370,000 people, to Piedmont, the northern region with a population of 4.5 million, as some local governments threaten to stop making payments on contracts and others seek to recover fees they allege were hidden.
Italian municipalities, emboldened by Milan’s criminal trial of Deutsche Bank AG, Depfa Bank Plc, JPMorgan and UBS over allegedly fraudulent selling practices on swaps, are increasingly filing complaints at home to avoid losses on derivatives contracts. The banks are turning to U.K. courts, where they expect to get swifter and fairer judgments.
“Banks have sensed that the wind has turned against them and think they can get a better settlement in a U.K. court,” said Piero Burragato, a former derivatives banker and founder of Concordia Advisory Solutions Srl who isn’t involved in the cases. “The U.K. suits are a sign of concern among the banks.”
The pace of the U.K. lawsuits increased in the past month. Deutsche Bank, UBS and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit in London are suing Lazio, a central Italian region made up of five provinces including Rome. Deutsche Bank and Merrill have also filed suits against Tuscany, and Merrill is suing Piedmont. At least four more suits were filed in London in December against other Italian regions over swap agreements.
Payments Halted
Piedmont hasn’t been notified of the suit and the region has met its obligations on the contract with Merrill, said an official for the government, who declined to be identified. Officials for Florence and Lazio declined to comment, and Tuscan representatives weren’t immediately available. Officials representing all of the banks declined to comment.
Italian municipalities face derivatives losses of at least 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion), Bank of Italy data from June 30 show. At least two cities have halted payments on their derivatives deals, stoking tension between banks and clients.
Thousands of public authorities across Europe tried to cut borrowing costs in recent years through derivatives deals whose risks they couldn’t measure. In the U.S., governments and nonprofit organizations have paid more than $4 billion to Wall Street firms to end such agreements since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Nobody really knows how much of this is out there,” said Michael Dempster, founder of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Financial Research in the U.K. “It’s indicative of the potential problem in the interaction between banks and local authorities.”
Government Bans
Past losses on derivatives have led some European governments to ban local authorities or state-owned companies from investing in such products. A U.K. court ruled in the 1980s that about 3.2 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) of swap contracts entered into by Hammersmith and Fulham Council were unenforceable. In 1997, the U.K. banned local governments from investing in derivatives. Italy banned local governments from signing new contracts in mid-2008 pending new rules.
Banks are going on the offensive to ensure their cases are heard in London, said Laurence Harris, a litigation lawyer at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP in London. Italian courts are more likely to favor the country’s municipalities and the legal system there is slower and subject to limitation periods that could make things harder for the banks.
“Italian proceedings are notorious for taking forever to come to a conclusion; they take years and years,” Harris said. “You can see why they want home-court advantage.”
10-Year Deadline
If municipalities sue first in their jurisdiction, banks have to go there to argue where the case should be heard. That’s used as a tactic in Italy to slow down litigation and try to reach a 10-year deadline after which a lawsuit and any appeals will be thrown out if a ruling hasn’t been made, Harris said.
Cases last year suggest British courts will allow the Italian derivates suits to be heard in the U.K. A British court ruled in May that the Italian bank Dexia Crediop SpA and Irish lender Depfa Bank Plc could sue the city of Pisa in London. UBS also won a ruling in October allowing a dispute with a German municipal utility to be heard in the U.K.
Depfa and Dexia sued Pisa in 2009 for suspending payments on two-interest rate swaps that are governed by U.K. law. Pisa stopped making payments in 2009, claiming that the 95 million euros of bonds and derivatives sold to it by the banks in 2007 didn’t provide an economic advantage to the city. A local administrative court backed its decision.
English Law
“It’s unlikely that the U.K. court would decline to hear any of the cases there since the Pisa case set a precedent, and the swaps contain an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favor of the English courts,” said Dario Loiacono, a Milan-based securities lawyer.
“Italian municipalities want to avoid trying the cases in London because of the cost of litigation, the fear of going to court in a foreign jurisdiction, and because English law is bank-protective,” Loiacono said.
If the banks win in the U.K., they will still have to ask courts in Italy to enforce the judgments, Harris said. Banks could otherwise only seize the assets that municipalities held outside of Italy.
To contact the reporters on this story: Elisa Martinuzzi in Milan at Lindsay Fortado in London at

Confessions of a Sexaholic

What if Italy's Silvio Berlusconi asked America's most famous sex columnist for help... 


I have a problem. I like to think of myself as a pretty powerful guy: Let's just say that, in my current gig, I have at my disposal the seventh largest GDP in the world. And it wasn't just handed to me: I worked my ass off for it. Built my own media company from the ground up, and charmed and networked and elbowed my way to the top of my field. Along the way, I've been known to indulge occasionally -- OK, often -- in my fondness for extracurricular women, the younger the better. (Still in high school? Don't mind if I do.)

 The peccadilloes in my work and social lives always fit hand in glove: borrow a little money from the business account to woo a pretty young thing (ladies don't pay for themselves, you know?); then bring her into the office to win the admiration and respect of my colleagues and clients.

But I'm starting to lose my magic. It started when my wife left me a year ago. She didn't go quietly -- it was public and messy. Then the Feds started auditing my business after years of looking the other way. (Morale at the office is low -- I was nearly fired a few weeks back.) And to top it off, the women I've been with are either trying to extort me for even more money than I've already given them, or they're gabbing to the cops about our pay-for-play arrangements.

So here's my question: Why can't I get away with it anymore? I remember what they told us in Catholic school about sins of the flesh, and I'm starting to think they were right -- that my years of risky romantic escapades are catching up with me. Judging from all my other powerful friends, you don't have to be a saint to be successful in this world, but maybe it's just a matter of time.

Or maybe it's just the fact that I'm getting up there in years? (Though I doubt that: With the procedures I've had, you wouldn't guess I'm 74, trust me. And I've still got my natural charm -- hey, back in the day I was a singer on a cruise ship.)

Well, at least I'm not gay, right?

—Confused Italian Approaching Obsolescence

read entire article here

January 20, 2011

Boardwalk Empire - Martin Scorsese is back!

 Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter's Golden Globe-winning series Boardwalk Empire is a fascinating look at the birth of US gangster mythology
Atlantic City, 16 January 1920, and the world is about to change. The great war has ended, prohibition is about to be passed, women are fighting for the right to vote and in this small seaside enclave a battle is brewing for control not just of the city's finances but, more importantly, for its hearts and minds.
While the teeming boardwalk along the beachfront offers all manner of entertainment from showgirls to astrologers, freak shows to drinking dens, inside City Hall, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the city treasurer, is juggling a desire for power with a belief in trying to do the right thing even as his former protege Jimmy Darmody returns from the battlefields of Europe determined to make his mark, legally or otherwise. This is a place where the lines between right and wrong are increasingly blurred and where anything is available, at a price.
Small wonder that New York and Chicago's gangsters, among them the suave Arnold Rothstein and his volatile companion Charles "Lucky" Luciano, are following developments with interest. And that the FBI are also lurking on the sidelines, monitoring the changing times.
Welcome to Boardwalk Empire, HBO's latest drama.  That's right: it's HBO, it's the state of New Jersey and it's gangsters, but those fearing a Sopranos-redux should stop worrying. For this isn't the world of Tony and Co, steeped in mafia lore and saturated in quotes from The Godfather and Goodfellas. Instead Boardwalk Empire aims to capture an era in which America was still creating its mythology.
Based on a book by Nelson Johnson, overseen by former Sopranos writer Terence Winter, with a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire is a lovingly detailed recreation of the America of The Untouchables and Jimmy Cagney, a place where the rules were just being written, sin was sexy and greed more than just good.
As you might imagine, given those involved, it looks amazing. The lavish pilot was rumoured to have cost anywhere between £12m and £33m, while in order to recreate the feel of Atlantic City in the 20s, the show's creators spent an estimated £3.5m on building a ghost town in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighbourhood. It's a huge investment, particularly when you consider that not so long ago HBO was forced to cancel Deadwood and Rome because of the heavy costs involved.

read full article here

Mass emigration from Ireland

While Fianna Fáil waste time playing deckchairs on the Titanic, the rest of the country is hanging its head in despair and anyone who has a chance - mainly single men and women - are getting out in the latest wave of emigration.
Today it was predicted that emigration in Ireland this year will be worse than the 1980s.

The Economic and Social Research Institute predicts 100,000 Irish will be emigrating in the next two years – 50,000 this year and 50,000 in 2012.
It means more Irish people will emigrate this year than 1989, when emigration last peaked and 44,000 left Ireland.
The figure is tethered to another timebomb - unemployment .
As ESRI's Dr Alan Barrett says the figures are of course uncertain but "If migration is lower unemployment will be higher". That's Hobson's choice for young graduates and for thousands of twenty and thirty-somethings who haven't left the country already.

The figure confirms what every family in Ireland knows, the country has reared a "lost generation" of twenty something semi-skilled workers and graduates who have no choice but to leave to find a job.
Australia is one of the most popular for the Irish and earlier this week I spoke to the authorities in Sydney and to one 26 year old who had already made the move to Oz.
There are two types of émigrés – those who are making a permanent move to the country with their families, and younger 20-somethings who are going on working holiday visas which, provided they work for three months in a rural area, can last for two years.
Five years ago, the department of immigration says, the numbers of Irish on this holiday visa stood at 12,500.

Spain is going to bail out its banks

Spain plans to pour billions more euros into its troubled savings banks and force them to be more open about their lending practices, people familiar with the matter said, an acknowledgment that previous efforts to fix the banks have fallen flat as the country seeks to ward off an international bailout.
In a first step, Spain is preparing to issue €3 billion ($4 billion) in debt in coming days, the people familiar with the matter said. Government officials are putting plans in place to eventually raise as much as €30 billion, according to these people, though some say the final tally will be less..

 read entire article here

North Africa statistics

for full size image click here

China and USA comparison

full size picture here

January 19, 2011

Germany Should Ready for Greece Default

Germany Should Ready for Greek Default, Feld Tells Handelsblatt

“I don’t believe that Greece will manage to deal with its debts without a cut,” Feld, nominated by the Cabinet to a five- member panel of economists who advise the government and a professor at the University of Freiburg, was cited as saying. “And then German guarantees will come due.”
Feld’s comments underscore Europe’s effort to solve the debt crisis that began in Greece and now threatens Portugal and Spain. European Union governments aim to assemble a solution by March, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Jan. 13. Purchases of outstanding Greek debt and lower interest rates on rescue loans as well as aid for Portugal and guarantees against excessive debt are all being considered, four people with direct knowledge of the talks told Bloomberg News last week...
read the entire article here