Saturday, September 30, 2006

love and violence, the violence of love

Here's a piece from The Valve on the resurrection of an ancient tactic to curb violence:
Lysistrata live

Posted by Bill Benzon on 09/25/06 at 05:37 AM

As Satchmo used to say, it's one of those old time good ones.
Colombian sex strike forces gangsters to sheathe weapons

Sarah Baxter

A SEX strike organised by the girlfriends of gang members in one of Colombia's most violent cities to protest against a wave of murders has been hailed as a success by the local security chief.

The action became known in the Colombian media as the "crossed-leg strike" because of the women's refusal to have sex with their men until they promised to give up violence.

After 10 days of abstinence the women of Pereira were said by the security chief to have proved that they could win their battle with "very noble weapons".
For updates, search a news site for "cross legged strike." Here's a recent account from Ekklesia

I thought of this when I saw this image on The Wooster Collective. It suggests to me that the crossed-legged strike provides some comic relief but as a tactic for curbing violence it hasn't much promise.

The artist is Humeux and the wall art appears somewhere in the Netherlands.

This thought in turn brings to mind this book of homilies by Archbishop Romero. In it he spoke of opposition to violence by love of a different sort and his story is a heart-rending one. He lost his life condemning inequality, poverty, social injustice, and violent death in San Salvador. Reading about the period just before his assassination, it's painful to learn that Jimmy Carter, champion of human rights, ignored the archbishop's call for an end to US aid to the oppressive régime which had illegally seized power. Wikipedia says: 'In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses from paramilitary right-wing groups, from left-wing guerrillas and from the government. Romero spoke out against U.S. military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights". Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua", ignored the plea.'

One more turn of thought: This unforgettable image from the streets of Baghdad comes from an article in the Guardian on the level of violence in Iraq. The article quotes Bob Woodward as saying there is now an attack every 15 minutes.

The caption reads: "Pools of blood on the streets of central Baghdad after car bombs exploded. Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wooster Collective

Found on Oishii: The Wooster Collective which, Wikipedia says, is an online street art website that is updated on a regular basis. The site displays and gives links to works by street artists and other ephemeral art to be found in cities around the world. Currently there are quite a few videos among the static photos. Some of the older posts give podcasts with music and interviews featuring street artists. Marc and Sara Schiller run the site. The name comes from a street in the Soho section of New York City, known for its concentration of artists.

The set of posts on giant puppets in London have a link to a wonderful video of a giant girl puppet who gets a morning shower from a giant elephant puppet, dresses and goes off to play in the park.

From context, I think this photo comes from a person named Alexandros in Athens. (There's no attribution.)

This photo shows a giant puppet by a group called Royal de Luxe. It appeared in a street performance last May in London. More info here.

addendum: I'm a home today supposedly catching up on important work and here I am indulging in a recreation instead.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

lucy stoners

I heard once, years and years ago, the name given to women who keep their own last names when marrying. I forgot it soon after and have since wondered what search might turn it up. Now I've stumbled onto the term quite by chance and also been given a clue about what search would do the trick.

Looking up information on Alice Stone Blackwell, a long-lived agitator for women's rights, I found her to be the daughter of Lucy Stone, who "was the first woman to earn a college degree in Massachusetts, the first woman to keep her maiden name when she married and she was also the first woman to speak full-time on woman’s rights."

So Lucy Stoner was the term I sought, and the search could have been "first woman keep maiden name." In fact this search turns up a Wikipedia page on the Lucy Stone League, a group organized to support use of maiden names by married women. Searching "Lucy Stoner" turns up a page with the title "I am a Lucy Stoner" and a bunch of other interesting sites.

Lucy Stone, from a painting by Numael Pulido; source:

addendum: An image search for lucy stoner turns up photos of a stoned Lucy or two.

The apple tree blooms white in the Land of the Living

I'm fond of the historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, particularly the Roman ones which take place in ancient Britain and in which members of the Aquila family are participants. She wrote mostly for children, but there's no lack of sophistication in the writing.

The Lantern Bearers is one of the best. outlines the plot. Basically, the hero, Aquila, has had a golden youth, growing up on an inland farm and becoming an officer in the Roman army. His fortunes turn as the British legions depart the island and he suffers great losses and endures soul-destroying hardships at the hands of raiding Jutes from Denmark. He escapes bondage and, greatly embittered, joins the fight to expel the invaders. In the end he experiences success in battle and learns to soften his hard heart.

Sutcliff's books often have religious and magical motifs. In this one, there's a scene of black magic about a third of the way through, one which reverberates through the rest of the novel. Two battle chiefs have combined forces to subdue the remaining Roman adherents and thus and dominate the country. One of the two, Hengenst, skilfully undermines the other by arranging for him to fall in love with his daughter, Rowena, who, as we'll see, is skilled in witchery.

Sutcliff writes:
She looked far remote, as though she had no need to be aware of the mead-flushed faces turned toward her, for she and they were in different worlds. She began to pluck the strings more strongly, conjuring up a strange music of long silence and single, singing notes that sprang up, each separate and perfect as some infinitely small silver bird that leapt up like a lark toward the smoky rafters, and hovered a little, and was gone. Gradually the notes spun close together until the bright shadow of a melody began to emerge; and then suddenly, still looking into the fire, she was singing.

Aquila, watching her, had expected her voice to be hard and high and clear. It was clear, but with a clearness of depth, not height, a dark voice.
The apple tree blooms white in the Land of the Living:
The shadow of the blossom falls across my door stone:
A bird flutters in the branches, singing.
Green is my bird as the green earth of men, but his song is forgetfulness.
           Listen and forget the earth.
.... the great firelit hall, the warriors leaning forward on their benches, even the two men in the High Seat were no more than background for the woman harping beside the fire.
The pedals fall from my apple tree, drifing,
Drifting down the wind like snow: but the snow is warm:
And a bird flutters in the branches, singing.
Blue is my bird as the blue summer sky, over the world of men.
           But here is another sky.
... Aquila thought, She is a witch! Surely she is a witch! Rowena had risen, and moved, drifting as though on the slow, haunting notes of her song, to the foot of the High Seat; and sank down again, still looking up at the thin, red-haired man.
The apples are silver on the boughs, low bending;
A tree of chiming, of singing as the wind blows by:
But the bird flutters through the branches silent.
Red is my bird, crimson red as the life of my heart is.
           Will you not come to me?
... the singer rose without another word ... and went, sweeping her crimson skirts after her through the rushes, to set the little harp back in the hands that her father's gleeman held out for it. Hengenst sent one glance after her; it might have been in triumph, quickly hidden under his down-drawn golden brows. (pp 96-97)
Throughout The Lantern Bearers, as in her other books, Sutcliff employs nature images for symbolic weight to reinforce and enrich the plot and its underlying meanings. Here, for example, is a first echo of the witch song, turned bucolic:
He saw the hearth-smoke rising blue against the tawny flank of the mountain beyond, and a few people moving about the kale plots and the cattle-byres. The track swung right hand, towards the village, skirting a small village, an orchard cradled in the loop of the river, the apples ripe on the dripping branches of the little half-wild trees; and the bright shadow of a song came to his mind.
The apples are silver on the boughs, low bending;
A tree of chiming, of singling as the wind blows by...
But these apples were homely russet, not silver, and no wind stirred the branches; on the still, autumn sunlight slanted through the orchard, casting each tree's shadow to the foot of the next. But there was a movement among the trees, a girl's laugh, and the flicker of colours under the leaves, dark red and saffron and tawny, and a deep, living blue like a kingfisher's mantle, and he realized that a group of girls were at the apple-picking. (pp 151-52)
In the examples that follow Sutcliff shows her skill in using light to set mood, usually in contrasting peaceful natural landscapes with the violence of enslavement, intrigue, and battle.
The hut was full of sunlight that slanted in through the doorway and quivered like golden water on the lime-washed wall beside him. (p 108)

He lay still a few moments, blinking at the living golden water on the wall (p 109)

the still-wet forest was full of a crystal-green light. The beans were just coming into flower, black and white among the grey-green leaves, and the scent of them was like honey and almonds, strong and sweet after the rain. (p 110)

It was a wild sunset, beyond the low, wooded hills, touching woods and marshes and mudflats with its singing gold and kindling the water to flame. (p. 170)

There was a cuckoo calling somewhere among the trees, a rich and sleepy sound, the very voice of summer. ... The cuckoo was still calling in a distance that was blue as wood-smoke, and in the marshy ground beside the track the dense mat of iris leaves still showed a few yellow flowers, proudly upheld like lamps among the cool green sword-blades of the leaves. (p 206)

Aquila saw that the moon was down, but the dark had paled to grey and the grey was glowing luminous. The eastern sky was a awash with silver light, and somewhere down by the stream a willow wren was singing, and the whole world seemed poised on the edge of revelation, about to spread its wings... (p 268)

where is he who is to save the present moment?

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This entry comes from the last days of September, 1848

I go twice a week over Concord with Ellery, and, as we sit on the steep park at Conantum, we still have the same regret as oft before. Is all this beauty to perish? Shall none remake this sun and wind, the sky-blue river, the river-blue sky; the yellow meadow spotted with sacks and sheets of cranberry-pickers; the red bushes; the iron-gray house with just the color of the granite rock; the paths of the thicket, in which the only engineers are the cattle grazing on yonder hill; the wide, straggling wild orchard in which Nature has deposited every possible flavor in the apples of different trees? Whole zones and climates she has concentrated into apples, We think of the old benefactors who have conquered these fields; of the old man Moore, who is just dying in these days, who has absorbed such volumes of sunshine like a huge melon or pumpkin in the sun, -- who has owned in every part of Condord a woodlot, until he could not find the boundaries of these, and never saw their interiors. But we say, where is he who is to save the present moment, and cause that this beauty not be lost? Shakespeare saw no better heaven or earth, but had the power and need to sing, and seized the dull ugly England, ugly to this, and made it amicable and enviable to all reading men, and now we are fooled into likening this to that; wilst if one of us had the chanting constitution, that land would no more be heard of.

source: "The Cranberry Pickers"
by Joseph Holodook

Monday, September 11, 2006

dreams of childhood fading: Emerson's Journals, September, 1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820-1824, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (1909).

Emerson wrote this undated entry following his return home from his walk to Western Massachusetts. At 20, he was still living with his mother, in a new place Canterbury Lane, Roxbury, and still teaching young ladies.

I have often found cause to complain that my thoughts have an ebb and flow. Whether any laws fix them, and what the laws are, I cannot ascertain. I have quoted a thousand times the memory of Milton and tried to bind my thinking season to one part of the year, or to one sort of weather; to the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or to the summer reign of Lyra. The worst is, that the ebb is certain, long and frequent, while the flow comes transiently and seldom. [See note 1 at bottom]

Once when Vanity was full fed, it sufficed to keep me at work and to produce some creditable scraps; but alas! it has long been dying of a galloping starvation, and the Muse, I fear me, will die too. The dreams of my childhood are all fading away and giving place to some very sober and very disgusting views of a quiet mediocrity of talents and condition - nor does it appear to me that any application of which I am capable, any efforts, any sacrifices, could at this moment restore any reasonableness to the familiar expectations of my earlier youth. But who is he that repines? Let him read the song about the linter-goose.

Melons and plums and peaches, eating and drinking, and the bugle, all the day long. These are the glorious occupations which engross a proud and thinking being, running his race of preparation for the eternal world. Man is a foolish slave who is busy in forging his own fetters. Sometimes he lifts up his eyes for a moment, admires freedom, and then hammers the rivets of his chain. Who does not believe life to be an illusion when he sees the daily, yearly, livelong, inconsistency that men indulge, in thinking so well and doing so ill?
. . . [editor's elipsis]


. . God's works are fruits of his character; copies (as ancient philosophy expressed it) of his mind and wishes. One could not venerate him if he were only good. Who could bow down before a god who had infinite instincts of benevolenee, and no thought; in whom the eye of knowledge was shut; who was kind and good because he knew no better; who was infinitely gentle as brutes are gentle? The poor Egyptian plebeian layman might do so, who worshipped a divine Oxy for his gracious tameness; but an enlightened Man with the spirit of a man, would bid them bring the stake and the fire and make him Martyr, ere he surrendered his mind and body to such a prostration. Man reveres the Providence of God as the benign and natural result of his omniscience; and expects in the imperfect image of God an imperfect copy of the same eternal order. [Note 2]


Note 1: So in "The Poet"; Poems (appendix) p. 319
Is there warrant that the waves
Of thought, in their mysterious caves, Will heap in me their highest tide,
In me, therewith beatified?
Unsure the ebb and now of thought,
The moon comes back, - the spirit not.
Also in "The Preacher," Lectures and Biographical Sketches, p.219 [editor's note]

Note 2: Mr. Cabot, in his Memoir (p. 103), gives two letters on God and Providence, written at this period by Emerson to his Aunt Mary, who, as he used to say, "wished everyone to be a Calvinist but herself." [editor's note]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

what's affordable?

Michelle Singletary's column in the Washington Post has some useful advice on personal budgets from a non-profit service organization called Money Management International. The piece is It Pays to Do the Math In the Budget Game. Here are some excerpts:
Your rent or mortgage (including insurance and taxes) should be about 27 percent of your income, minus taxes. If yours doesn't fall at exactly 27 percent, don't worry. The range typically is 20 to 35 percent.

What about your transportation costs (gas, insurance, maintenance)? They should be about 8 percent, Money Management tells its clients.

Here is a list of budget allocations MMI recommends, including comfortable or affordable ranges:

· Personal debt (credit cards, personal loans), 14 percent, with a range of 10 to 20 percent.

· Plan to spend about 3 percent for health care, including dental visits, prescriptions and eye care.

· Housing , 27 percent. Range: 20 to 35 percent

· Food , 21 percent. Range: 15 to 30 percent.

· Transportation (including car loan, insurance, gas, etc.), 8 percent. Range: 6 to 20 percent.

· Utilities , 6 percent. Range: 4 to 7 percent.

· Clothing , 4 percent. Range: 3 to 10 percent.

· Miscellaneous (travel, child care, entertainment, gifts), 1 percent. Range: 1 to 4 percent.

· Savings , 7 percent. Range: 5 to 9 percent.

· Insurance (health, life, disability), 6 percent. Range: 4 to 6 percent.

· Personal care , 3 percent. Range: 2 to 4 percent.

· Health (prescriptions, eye care, dental), 3 percent. Range: 2 to 8 percent.

Keep in mind that these percentages and line items are just guidelines. The ranges and categories will depend on a lot of factors, including whether you're married, have children or live in a high-cost area. If 60 percent of your income is spent on housing, transportation and food, you've got to make the remaining 40 percent work by refiguring the percentages.

Using a percentage method to budget helps you remember how much you can spend in any one-expense category and overall. If you budget this way, you will have financial freedom and peace of mind.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

London awash and the King returning to power

I've been reading letters of John Wallis, an English mathematician of the seventeenth century who had some insights which led to the revolutionary development of the calculus. He did not confine his interest to math, having administrative responsibilities as keeper of archives at Oxford University and the varied interests typical of members of the Royal Society in his time. One of these was a study of tides, specifically the causes of the exceptionally high tides which occur near the vernal and autumnal equinoxes each year.

From his home in Oxford he wrote frequently to Henry Oldenburg, the Royal Society's secretary on the probable causes of these tides. Kepler and Gallileo had also studied this phenomenon and Newton would later take it up. Galileo thought the main cause to be variations in the speed of the earth's rotation at different points on its surface. Wallis suggested that the main cause was the combined pull of gravitation exerted by sun and moon. He visualized a common center of gravity which changed position as the earth and moon moved in their orbits. The explanation given today largely reaffirms this hypothesis.

All this came to mind on reading an account in the Guardian about the yearly highest of high tides that are expected in England today and Monday and then again on October 7 and 10. These dates are conjunctions of two major astronomical events, one set occuring about every two weeks (the new and full moons, when the moon, earth, and sun are aligned with one another) and the other occuring twice a year when the sun crosses the equator (the equinoxes). On these times tide-producing gravitational forces are at their greatest. The tides are highest in years when the equinox and a new or full moon are timed as they are now. Click image to enlarge. Its caption, from BBC News, reads: "Shading shows likely extent of flooding from overflowing rivers and exceptionally high seas if there were no flood defences (Environment Agency). Spring tides expected in September and October may be highest for next 20 years in some areas. But Environment Agency says most flood defences should be able to cope unless they coincide with particularly severe weather."

There are quite a few factors that affect the actual tide height (mostly weather conditions, curvature of the shorline, the shape of the ocean floor, atmospheric pressure, and some special conditions affecting tidal rivers and inlets) so the semi-yearly high tides are not entirely predictable. The caption on this image from BBC News reads: "Prevailing SW winds carry depression to NW Scotland. Mean current forces surge to right of wind direction. If low also moves east, surge is forced southwards.
Shallower seabed means surge elevations higher in southern parts of North Sea."

Wallis didn't have the benefit of our full understanding of all the forces and conditions that affect tides. Newton's insight into the law of gravity was, in fact, still in the future. So his intuition and inductive reasoning are, I think, pretty admirable. And it's therefore surprising that his evidence did not support what we now know as fact concerning the conjunction of equinox, on the one hand, and alignment of sun, earth, and moon, on the other. In fact, though he understood that the matter was complicated, he didn't have enough evidence to grasp how many and varied were the causes of exceptional high tides.

Here is his account of the observations that caused him to develop the common-center-of-gravity hypothesis.

This comes from an article he wrote for Philosophical Transactions, the periodical (first of its kind) published by Oldenburg for the Royal Society. It is An essay of Dr. John Wallis, exhibiting his hypothesis about the flux and reflux of the sea (Issue no. 16, Monday, August 6, 1666, London, John Martin). The full title is "An Essay of Dr. John Wallis, exhibiting his Hypothesis about the Flux and Reflux of the Sea, taken from the Consideration of the Common Center of Gravity of the Earth and Moon."

Here are his observations. I like particularly his memory of the high water of November 1660 in London.
It having been observed (grosly) that those high Tides have used to happen about the Spring and Autumn; it hath been generally taken for granted (without any more nice observation) that the two quinoxes are the proper times, to which these Annual high Tides are to be referred; And such causes sought for, as might best sute with such a Supposition.

But it is now, the best part of twenty years, since I have had frequent occasions to converse with some Inhabitants of Rumney-marsh in Kent; where the Sea being kept out with great Earthen walls, that it do not at high water overflow the Levell; and the Inhabitants livelyhood depending most on grazing, or feeding Sheep; they are (as you may believe they have reason to be) very vigilant and observant, at what times they are most in danger of having their Lands drowned. And I find them generally agreed, by their constant Observations, (and Experience dearly bought) that their times of danger are about the beginning of February and of November : that is, at those Spring Tides which happen near those times; to which they give the names of Candlemass-stream and Allhallond-stream : And if they scape those Spring-tides, they apprehend themselves out of Danger for the rest of the year. And as for March and September (the two quinoxes ) they are as little solicitous of them, as of any other part of the year.

This, I confess, I much wondred at, when I first heard it; and suspected it to be but a mistake of him, that first told me, though he were indeed a person not likely so to be mistaken, in a thing wherein he was so much concerned: But I soon found, that it was not onely his, but a general observation of others too; both there, and elsewhere along the Sea coast. And though they did not pretend to know any reason of it, (nor so much as to enquire after it;) Yet none made doubt of it; but would rather laugh at any that should talk of March and September , as being the dangerous times. And since that time, I have my self very frequently observed (both at London and elsewhere, as I have had occasion) that in those months of February and November , (especially November ) the Tides have run much higher, than at other times: Though I confess, I have not been so diligent to set down those Observations, as I should have done. Yet this I do particularly very well remember, that in November 1660. (the same year that his Majesty returned) having occasion to go by Coach from the Strand to Westminster , I found the Water so high in the middle of King-street , that it came up, not onely to the Boots, but into the Body of the Coach; and the Pallace-yard (all save a little place near the West-End ) overflow'd; as likewise the Market-place; and many other places; and their Cellars generally filled up with Water. And in November last, 1665. it may yet be very well remembred, what very high Tides there were, not onely on the Coasts of England , (where much hurt was done by it) but much more in Holland , where by reason of those Inundations, many Villages and Towns were overflow'd. And though I cannot so particularly name other years, yet I can very safely say, that I very often observed Tides strangely high about those times of the year. This Observation did for divers years cause me much to wonder, not only because it is so contrary to the received opinion of the two quinoxes ; but because I could not think of any thing signal at those times of the year: as being neither the two quinoxes, nor the two Solstices , nor the Sun's Apogeum and Perigeum ; (or Earths Aphelium and Perihelium ;) nor indeed, at contrary times of the year, which at least, would seem to be expected. From Alhollandtide to Candlemass being but three months; and from thence to Alhollandtide again nine months.

spring tide at Victoria Warf
Flickr image by bignoseduglyguy: Spring Tide at Victoria Wharf, click to enlarge

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

money pressures graphically shown

Here's a small addition to my long Labor Day post on things that could go wrong with the economic situation in the US and world. It's from an article in the Washington Post on the current election season: 'Mortgage Moms' May Star in Midterm Vote and it provides evidence for Bernanke's warning about the potential political fallout from income inequality. It's tempting to think the financial crunch being experienced by vast numbers of American voters will result in election of Democrats who will make things better. Unfortunately, if what the most vocal Democrats in Congress are saying is any indication, this will not be so.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

thinning bones

A couple years' back, an article in Bicycling magazine warned about the dangers of bone thinning in cyclists (WHY YOU NEED TO BONE UP..., March 2004 - Bicycling Magazine, by Roy M. Wallack). There are quite a few reports of reputable studies on the subect including these two: Cycling and osteoporosis and
Cyclists May Risk Bone Loss.

The current issue of Bicycling Magazine has yet another warning: "Cycling is one of the best exercises for every part of body except the one that holds it all together: your skeleton. Studies show that some of the most elite riders have the weakest bones. Even passionate enthusiasts riding about 12 hours a week can have bone densities 10 percent lower than their active, noncycling peers."

The item caught my eye because I do five to seven hours of cycling a week, maybe 5,000 miles a year. And, last winter, a Dexascan showed that I have suffered bone loss. I'm now taking Fosamax and do doing weight-bearing exercises including weight lifting and lots of stair climbing (I stopped using the elevators in the building where I work). The condition I have is called osteopenia, which is simply bone loss short of the amount defined as osteoporosis.

Monday, September 04, 2006

health food

The same issue of the AARP mag that had the articles on Living Longer also had one on five foods that are particularly good for you. I'd never heard of Spirulina, the one that leads off the list. Since it's short, I'll give the whole thing:

5 Foods That Can Add Years to Your Life
, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

New research suggests that including a combination of antioxidants on your plate yields a more powerful advantage than eating any one type of antioxidant-rich food alone. Try to make the following foods a part of your daily diet:

1. Spirulina (blue-green algae) Spirulina contains not only the antioxidant phycocyanin but also a bundle of protein, plus omega fatty acids. Once a mainstay food of the Aztecs, spirulina additionally works as an ibuprofenlike nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. Add one teaspoon to one tablespoon of spirulina a day to smoothies or yogurt, or take it in capsule form. Caution: for some people, spirulina can be overstimulating (kind of like too much coffee), so experiment to find the right balance. [Note: There is little empirical evidence for spirulina's health benefits. For some indications of its nutritional value, see this site.]

2. Cranberries, blueberries, blackberries These are jam-packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins and polyphenols, which also have anti-inflammatory qualities. Try to work in a cup of berries a day.

3. Leafy greens (such as kale or spinach) They're full of lutein, another super-antioxidant; it's been proven to protect against macular degeneration of the optic nerves, thus protecting eyesight. Scientists recommend eating a cup of cooked kale or one to two cups of raw spinach each day.

4. Almonds and walnuts These nuts are a fantastic source of omega-6 fatty acids, as well as phytosterols (plant sterols) and vitamin E (tocopherols). People who regularly consume nuts tend to have both a lowered risk of Parkinson's and lower cholesterol. Try to eat a quarter cup of these nuts a day whenever you can.

5. Flaxseed It contains fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that help to clear plaque and bad fats from the cardiovascular system. The fiber also protects against colon cancer. For best results, buy flaxseed ground (or grind it yourself) and throw one teaspoon to one tablespoon a day into everything from meat loaf to muffins.

Finally, don't forget to add these superfoods into a diet rich with lean meat, fish, and whole grains.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

a not so happy Labor Day

It boggles the mind that the US economy has remained strong despite deficits, energy costs, natural disasters, unfavorable global imbalances, and all ... and all. The driving force behind this freak of nature is probably the strength of the US consumer culture. And why do we buy? Well, prices are low for many consumer goods and, interest rates also being pretty low, Americans can buy a lot without reaching the point where they can't meet the minimum payments on their credit cards.

Prices are low, of course, because (a) so many consumer goods can be produced cheaply abroad (mainly in Asia) and (b) Wal-Mart and the other big box stores make sure that cheap foreign production yeilds up low retail prices. Another way of expressing these two points is to say that global competition makes for low-cost shopping.

This Labor Day Weekend, The New York Times and Washington Post are calling attention to the downside of the enthusiastic US emersion in the vibrant global economy.

Harold Meyerson in the Post draws attention to an article on Wal-Mart in the July issue of Harper's. He says 20 percent of all retail transactions in the United States take place at Wal-Marts and explains that Wal-Mart exploits the power this gives them. As is well known, they keep wages and benefits low for their own employees, but, less well known, they're also able to force this cost-cutting on their suppliers and, in effect, "drive down wages and benefits all across the economy. ... [With the result that] "of Wal-Mart's 10 top suppliers in 1994, four have filed bankruptcies."

The Wal-Mart trend has been enabled in part, Meyerson says, by a long-term transition from an economy based on heavy manufacture (in which union organization has been strong) to one based on the Silicon-Valley type of manufacture and on services (where it has not been so strong). He says since 1973 there has been a "decoupling of increased corporate revenue from employees' paychecks [as] productivity gains have outpaced median family income by 3 to 1."

The piece in the Times, by Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt, gives more recent data:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation's living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960's. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as "the golden era of profitability."

Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.

"If I had to sum it up," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, "it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth."
Some current Census reports show what's happening. Between 2004 and 2005, although the overall median household income rose by 1.1 percent in the US, the real median earnings of both men and women who worked full-time, year-round declined. Median household income rose because households at the top end of the spectrum saw huge increases in income, much of it coming from sources other than wages and salaries. The Times article quotes Charles Cook, who publishes a nonpartisan political newsletter:
"There are two economies out there," Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. "One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.

"And then there's the working stiffs," he added, "who just don't feel like they're getting ahead despite the fact that they're working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group."
The Census report provides a measure of the distance between the two economies. It's the Gini index, a widely-accepted measure of income inequality. Says the report: "Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469)." This index has remained fairly constant in the last couple of years. The Wikipedia article on the index puts this data in context. As the chart reproduced below shows, income inequality in the US is greater than in other industrialized nations and even some emerging economies.
{Click to enlarge. Source.}

The Times article says that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke sees a risk in this inequality. In a speech given last week he warned that the political fallout could produce an increase in economic protectionism. He's quoted as saying that recent economic changes "threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the profits of some firms," and thus the govenment must try "to ensure that the benefits of global economic integration are sufficiently widely shared."

Where does this set of facts and opinions leave us?

It appears the short-term outlook is good; long-term bad. Here's one of many expressions of confidence about the former. It comes from a blog called Between the Hedges by the manager of a hedge fund. He's talking about the stock market but the scenario applies more widely.
Over the coming months, an end to the Fed rate hikes, lower commodity prices, seasonal strength, the November election, decelerating inflation readings, lower long-term rates, increased consumer/investor confidence, rising demand for US stocks and the realization that economic growth is only slowing to around average levels should provide the catalysts for another substantial push higher in the major averages through year-end as p/e multiples begin to expand.

Longer-term, the US is still at risk for slipping into a recession. The country's deficits restrict the ability of the Fed to manage change. The end of the housing bubble puts a huge number of Americans in financial peril since they have borrowed against the value of their homes to help pay current expenses (such as managing their consumer debt of course). This plus the high cost of fuel and an expected continuation of the slow-down in business activity could produce a substantial decline in the consumer spending that's driving not only the US economy, but much of the global one as well.

Another long-term risk is a financial crisis in China, source of so many of the cheap goods Americans buy. Chinese banks have been lending far too much money to marginally-productive and unproductive businesses (many of them state-owned). Recently Bernanke said the Chinese are expected to correct this problem, but the task is difficult and they may not succeed. (See Can't rule out China hard landing: Bernanke in Yahoo News.)

And finally, there's been no progress in stemming US deficits or dealing with the problems of unfunded mandates (future shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare being the main ones). There's been no progress in stimulating consumption in Europe, Japan, and other wealthy countries to help reduce dependence on US consumption as force behind worldwide economic expansion. There's been no progress in correcting the overvaluation of the Japanese and Chinese currencies against the American dollar. No increase in investment in emerging economies by countries that hold large surpluses. Etc.

live long and well (maybe)

The the current issue of the AARP magazine has a set of articles on how to live longer and better:

Special Report
Living Longer
September & October 2006
Add ten (healthy) years to your life

It's pretty good. Most of the contents are based on empirical evidence, some of it strong, some weak. Where information is speculative, the author says so.

Here's the intro section and table of contents:

What if someone said you could live ten years longer—and you wouldn't have to drink any strange potions or take any magic pills or perform any body-cleansing rituals? Better yet, it wouldn't cost you a dime. That's exactly what we're about to tell you. For this special report we talked to leading scientists in the longevity field and studied the latest research to bring you the truth about the search for the fountain of youth, including surprising breakthroughs in the science of aging; a highly nutritious, stay-young diet that really works; exercise secrets for a longer, stronger life; tips to help keep stress from cheating you out of precious years; and a fascinating look at what the future may hold. Turn the virtual page, and start turning back the clock!

By Joe Treen
A new understanding of the aging process

By Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Try this stay-young food plan

By Susan Crandell
Why adding muscle boosts life expectancy

By Karen Cheney
Easy ways to keep stress from sapping vitality

The Future
By Joe Treen
A look ahead at promising ideas for curing age-related diseases

The articles make the following main points (all these are quoted extracts):
• Consistent exercise, not smoking, an ability to deal with stress, long-standing religious beliefs, an independent spirit—are common denominators among the very old.

• You can't live to 105 if your parents or grandparents died young.

• In study after study, animals — from worms to primates — lived longer when their diet was cut by as much as 40 percent of the norm. A recent study supports the idea that caloric restriction works in humans. But is it a good idea? Many scientists say it can lead to premature osteoporosis, a susceptibility to infectious disease, and infertility.

• For all the research, the best way to be a long-lived human like Ed Rondthaler seems relatively uncomplicated: eat an antioxidant-rich diet, avoid obvious environmental pollution such as cigarettes, get lots of exercise, and find ways to cope with stress.

• Get as much of your caloric intake as you can not only from antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables but also from nuts and flaxseed, which are loaded with vitamin E and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

• [Exercise is important.] Many of what we thought were symptoms of aging are actually symptoms of disuse. Besides keeping your weight under control, regular physical activity can promote the growth of neurons in the brain that are affected by chronic stress, studies in animals have shown. Exercise "stimulates certain factors in the brain that help to repair it and protect it," says Albert.

• The loss of muscle (and accompanying increase in body fat) puts extra strain on the heart, alters sugar metabolism (increasing the risk for diabetes), and can tip the balance of healthy lipids in the blood, leading to heart attack and stroke. A regular exercise program (30 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week) can reduce your risk of dying in the next eight years by 40 percent, improve brain function, cut your risk of Alzheimer's disease by up to 60 percent, and blunt the symptoms of depression.

• Long-term stress, the kind you can't control or resolve, however, can have far-reaching, harmful consequences.

• [To avoid or reduce stress:] Sleep more. Learn to meditate Researchers have shown that a regular practice of meditation adds to the thickness of the cortex—a region of the brain, associated with attention and sensory processing, that tends to thin with age. The theory is that people with a thicker cortex may deal better with stress. [Nuture friendships.] There is a link between a strong social-support network and reduced levels of stress. Indulge in activities you enjoy

• A 2005 study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that laughter causes the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow to the heart and other organs. (Stress causes blood vessels to contract.) "There's nothing like a good laugh to break the intensity of a situation and give you some much-needed perspective," says Stephanie Marston, a marriage and family therapist and a frequent guest on the Today show. "When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins that create feelings of joy and euphoria. Having a sense of humor is a key facet in creating greater balance in your life."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

pilgrim amid dusty rustics: Emerson's Journals, Sept 2-3, 1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1820-1824, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (1909).

Emerson continues the travel diary of his return from Western Massachusetts:
[Sept. 2-3]
From Mr. Haven's garret bed I sallied forth Tuesday morning towards Hubbardston, but my cramped limbs made little speed. After dining in Hubbardston I walked seven miles farther to Princeton, designing to ascend Wachusett with my tall cousin Thomas Greenough, if I should find him there, and then set out for home in the next day's stage. But when morning came, and the stage was brought, and the mountain was a mile and a half away, learned again an old lesson, that, the beldam Disappointment sits at Hope's door. I jumped into the stage and rode aways Wachusett untrod. At Sterling, I learned that Oliver Blood studies physic in Worcester. At Boston I saw Nat Wood on his way to Amherst, N. H., to study law, his pedagogical career being terminated - O fortunate nimium. [See note 1 at bottom.]

Close-cooped in a stage-coach with a score of happy, dusty rustics, the pilgrim continued his ride to Waltham, and alighting there, spent an agreeable evening at Rev. Mr. Ripley's. [See note 2] Home he came from thence the next morning, right glad to sit down once more in a quiet well-fed family at Canterbury.


Note 1: Blood and Wood were his classmates. [Editors' note]

Note 2: Rev. Samuel Ripley, minister of Waltham, was step-uncle of the Emerson boys, and always a kind friend and benefactor, especially to Waldo. [Editors' note]

Joost on top!

Yesterday Joost won a Dutch race, Profronde of Almelo. This is a criterim, meaning it's a circuit race in an urban area, in this case Almelo in the eastern part of the Netherlands where he was born and raised. The event --part of a festival that continues into the evening with live music -- was blessed with an unusually warm and sunny day. Although most of the racers were Dutch, an top-ranked Australian, Robbie McEwen, participated, having dropped out of the Tour of Spain. And so did the Luxembourger, Frank Schleck, winner this year of the prestigious Amstel Gold Race and the famous L'Alpe-d'Huez stage of the Tour de France. Joost went off the front with Bram Tankink to beat out Robbie, Frank, and everyone else, and Joost edged Tankink in the final sprint. Robbie came in third. (Like Joost, Tankink is a local in those parts.)

The race wrapup says one prize for winning was that Joost got to kiss Celina Kalfane, the "rondemiss," who is Dutch of Indian origin. Click image to enlarge. Source.

Friday, September 01, 2006

a reaction of pain: Emerson's journal, 9/1/1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson continues the travel diary of his return from Western Massachusetts:
[Monday, Sept. 1]
After a dreamless night, and a most hospitible entertainment, I parted from Greenfeld and through an unusually fine country, crossed the Connecticut (shrunk to a rivulet in this place somewhere in Montagu). My solitary way somewhat more dreary, as I drew nearer Wendell, and the only relief to hot sandy roads and a barren, monotonous region was one one forest with many straight, clean pine trees upwards of a hundred feet high, "fit for the mast of some great Admiral." [see note at bottom] All that day was a thoughtless, heavy pilgrimage, and Fortune deemed that such a crowded week of pleasure demanded a reaction of pain. At night I was quartered in the meanest caravansera which has contained my person since the tour began. Traveller! weary and jaded, who regardest the repose of thine earthly tenement; traveller, hungry and athirst, whose heart warms to the hope of animal gratification; traveller of seven or seventy years, beware, beware, I beseech you, of Haven's Inn in New Salem. Already he is laying a snare for your kindness or credulity in fencing in a mineral spring for your infirmities. Beware.


                         "The tallest are
Hewn on Norwegian Hills to be the mast
Of some great ammiral"

Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1
[Editors' note.]