Monday, October 29, 2007

Queen to Give King Royal Treatment

Pomp, Planes and Controversy abound in the royal greetings between a meeting of the monarchs. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is rolling out the London red carpet for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia amidst growing public gasps of pained chagrin. It has been two decades since the last visit to London for a meeting of the two royal representatives. The King's five jumbo jets had barely touched down on Monday before the city started lamenting aloud about torture policies, the reduced roles of women in the Kingdom and the quashing of the bribery scandal connected to the al-Yamamah arms deal. Some Members of Parliament are dusting off their best British protest protocol against the Queen's Guest at the Saudi Arabian embassy . Britain is suffering a culture and religious clash as several mosques continue to release literature of hate believed to be sponsored from inside the Saudi Kingdom.

This two-day state visit is choreographed on both sides with military precision from beginning to end. Terrorism is expected to be a high level topic of interest. The King got the ball rolling with an interview with the BBC days before his arrival. Saudi Arabia is negotiating to purchase 72 Eurofighter Typhoon planes from the United Kingdom while the Brits are expecting to speak more forcefully about Human Rights. Odd, selling weapons to a nation state expected to use their weaponry for benign purposes. But the King was openly critical of Britain's lack of response on counter terrorism measures provided by the Saudis. Britain's foreign minister, David Milland, canceled his appearance with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal. At the ministry level, talks are not expected to occur around difficult subjects. Cocktail conversation could be awkward.

"We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said no warnings were received before the July 7 attacks on London's transport system: "We made it very clear at the time that no specific warnings were received from any source."

"We do have a very close intelligence relationship with the Saudis," he added. "We just happen to disagree on this point."

Uneasy are the heads that wear the crowns. Complex world with long intertwined histories make for fascinating reading on both kingdoms. Norman Davies wrote the Isles: A History that gives fascinating detail of the collection of islands that comprise the Europe's United Kingdom. A History of Saudi Arabia from Madawi al-Rasheed offers explicit insights into the kingdom

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Iran & Temper Tantrums

Oh great, Iran got another sanction timeout again from the temperamental US Commander in Chief announced by Secretary spokesmodels, Condoleeza Rice and Henry Paulson. The US has no diplomatic babysitting ties with the toddler with nuclear ambitions. Kyl-Lieberman was the US Congress' effort at diplomacy that is particularly laughable. 70% of the US senators, including an obviously mesmerized by the shiny war machinery presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton, voted on a non-binding "sense of the senate" resolution to make a section of Iran's military, the Revolutionary Guard, a terrorist group. Usually, it helps to show you mean it if you are going to be that tepidly forceful to go with stern stuff stamped Official. It was so bad for Hillary in getting hoodwinked again by the Bush warmongering, she snail mailed explanations to the politically savvy voters in Iowa. They don't get the rationale behind that vote. Count on the national press to say she's ahead - only Iowa isn't sold on her embrace of the American sabre-rattling. (photo Xinhua/Reuters)
The message to Iowa voters, contained in an envelope promising an "important letter from Hillary inside", indicates she feels vulnerable on the Iran issue, particularly because of her 2002 vote to authorise the Iraq invasion.

She was the only Democratic candidate who voted for a resolution last month that called on Mr Bush to list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.

"Only then did I and a lot of other Democrats vote for the resolution in order to pressure Iran by clearing the way for sanctions and pushing the President to get them to the negotiating table." (emphasis mine/ AP Photo)
Iran is a problem. But they have more clout now because since 2001, America junked the diplomacy business and drove up the revenues, profits and "prominence" of defense contracting businesses and oil companies. Oil companies are having their best decades ever. Bush spoke to his sanctions and the price of oil is skyrocketing to a $100 bucks a barrel. Iran is hedging the bets topu out at $120 per barrel. Europe is weighing its next move with Iran.

The sanctions, which will be imposed against Iran's Defense Ministry, its Revolutionary Guard Corps and more than 20 Iranian companies, banks and individuals, are the most extensive since Washington and Tehran severed their diplomatic relations in 1980.

Observers believe that the new sanctions will surely cause further inconvenience in Iran's import-export businesses and affect its investment environment in the long run, but under the current circumstances, the unilateral measures have little impact in isolating Iran from outside world and changing its policy.

Since the United States and Iran have no direct business contacts, the sanctions will have no practical significance.

Although Washington also warns against foreign banks and companies doing business with Iran, the Islamic Republic still has extensive economic ties with many countries, including Russia and elsewhere in Europe.

Iran has a history with US meddling in its internal affairs sine 1925 when Kermit Roosevelt (yes one of those Roosevelts) took part in an overthrow of the royal line. In 1953, the US with the CIA's Kermit Roosevelt again playing a significant role orchestrated the overthrow of a popular individual - who earned Time's Man of the Year honors to place their Shah in place. In 1979, the hostage crisis emanated partially from earlier US meddling. This important history is recapped in an excellent book and primer on the Iran crisis by Mark Bowden in Guests of the Ayatollah - The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam.

Friday, October 26, 2007

FEMA Used Fake Reporters, Claims They're Sorry

FEMA, that bastion of preparedness, scarred from the traumas they inflicted on the residents of the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Rita and Katrina in 2005, took measures to ensure they were in charge of the propaganda. Bush Administration foul ups are legion and the status of its press relations has soured in the wake of the debacles attributed to them by a sometimes awake press corps. However, FEMA took no chances for us here in fire ravaged California, they put FEMA employees out front to ask FEMA personnel questions as if they were the national press corps. Yep, fake reporters from FEMA, while the fires still rage here, ash falls on almost two thousand ruined homes in tremendous amounts and our air quality is so poor even the healthy are at risk.

Here's the rationale of the confirmed stupid bureaucrats: real reporters didn't have enough time to get to the event on their schedule. So.... FEMA brainiacs put this guy out front and he went along with it. The real reporters could conference in. Ah, the wonders of technology when faking the news.

A new all time low. Now FEMA is again asking for America's forgiveness in the wake of being caught. Even the faux outrage and the apologies are milquetoast. FEMA is under the umbrella of the Homeland Security Department - you know the place that hired the horse trainer to head the agency when Katrina drowned New Orleans. Homeland Security Chief, Michael Chertoff, earned his skeletal chops by persecuting the Clintons with his boss, presidential panty raider and cigar hunter, Ken Starr.
"We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment," FEMA deputy administrator Harvey Johnson, who conducted the briefing, said in a statement. "Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received."

No actual reporter attended the hastily called news conference in person, although some camera crews arrived late to film incidental shots, officials said.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has authority over FEMA, called the incident "inexcusable and offensive to the secretary."

"We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated," spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. She said the department was considering reprimands.

The White House said: "It was just a bad way to handle it." The Bush administration has faced criticism previously over accusations it masked public relations efforts as journalism.

California needs competence. Bush had his photo op here and it was a doozy. Then FEMA followed it all up by staging a fake news conference to showcase their formidable skills. My eyes are red, my nose is stuffy, but blessed be, my place remains intact. These kinds of thoughtless stunts in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters and biggest migration of evacuees since the Civil War, FEMA is just unconscionable and exploitative.

A bit peeved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

1,000,000 Flee California Fires

What a wild few days. The Sun turned blood red, going outside is hazardous to one's health - need a mask, hermetically seal the windows and its been exceedingly hot and dry. 10,000 homes are in danger at Lake Arrowhead and the entire town is under a mandatory evacuation. Running Springs confirms the loss of 400 homes and the air attack of fixed wing was done at sunset. It's too dangerous. The fire is not laying down.

My old stomping grounds of San Diego are in shambles. The beach towns of Leucadia, Encinitas and Solana Beach have gone through evacuation stages. Qualcomm Stadium is as busy as a Charger's game day bustling with victims, volunteers and insurance agents.

The last overflight for Orange County roared by. The winds are not as bad as they were yesterday where standing up was difficult. But still went out to dinner last night in defiance with a great friend while both of us marveled at the Moon that looked liked Mars. God love those Angel firefighters as they are giving it their All.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Malibu is Burning!

The one thing they never tell you is how bad it smells and the ash goes everywhere. A blogger friend and I discussed it once, she had the best description, its BBQ'd air that lingers and makes a person sick.

Malibu possesses a raw natural beauty populated by many breathtaking estates built when imagination is the guiding principle, not a lack of funds. From the shore on Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1, what we locals call PCH, to the hills and bluffs overlooking the ocean, it is called God's Country for its stunning vistas. One of Malibu's largest churches, Malibu Presbyterian has caught on fire (UPDATE: It burned to the ground) and students wearing masks from Pepperdine University are under evacuation. There are at least seven communities under fire threats including Castaic, the greater Santa Clarita valley and homes in Agua Dulce. California's outstanding Firefighters are deciding if they can fly helicopters at night. That is very dangerous in these winds. Usually they cannot fly the fixed wing craft like the leased Super Scoopers that unload unbelievable amounts of water with pinpoint drops of water and the goopy pink fire retardant, FosCheck. An Agua Dulce home just burnt to its foundations so there is a redeployment of air resources. One death and firefighters suffered injuries further south in San Diego.

Santa Ana winds are superheated and blow off the deserts with gusts reaching hurricane strength. Its hard to stay on your feet when its blowing like that hard. Usually there is not a cloud in the sky because they have been blown away. These winds called devil winds hamper fire fighting efforts and are part of southern California's weatherscape, especially prevalent in October. California has had some of its worst fires in the last fifteen years in October. Malibu is no stranger to fire as the brush and chaparral burn and the embers are blown willy nilly and can catch fire miles away. That's what happened with some of the beach front homes nowhere near the original outbreaks. The fires are so hot because the Santa Ana's dry out any moisture in the air which feeds fires. Its 90 degrees here and slated to be hotter tomorrow. Over ten thousands are suffering through power outages.

The fire started in Malibu Canyon, which is also horse country, with a suspected downing from the winds of an electric line sparking the fire. Next to Malibu is posh Pacific Palisades which has even more expensive homes as it abuts Los Angeles and Santa Monica to the northwest.

Update: Injuries and terrible conditions for firefighters in San Diego. Irvine now has intense fire conditions. It's hard to breathe here in southern California and the windows need to stay shut. Bless those in harms way everyway.

Divining Da Vinci's Mona Lisa Secrets

The Holy Grail quest for perfect eyebrows consumes Hollywood as if their lives depended on it . Imagine having no eyebrows with millions of curious people gazing upon your face through the centuries, trying to answer the burning question why. The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous interesting paintings known to humankind. Twenty five secrets of the Mona Lisa are laid bare in an exhibit in San Francisco. From the special camera invention of a French engineer, Pascal Cotte, it is now known the the Renaissance's Italian polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, painted Mona Lisa's eyebrows. Having seen the heavily protected painting in person at the Louvre, the art guide made mention of the missing brows and the latest theory behind the secret smile.

Images from Cotte's 240-megapixel Multi-spectral Imaging camera that uses lucky 13 wavelengths from ultraviolet light to infrared, reveal Mona Lisa had at least one hair on the brow at one time as Da Vinci intended. The Metreon in San Francisco is hosting these new images in an exhibit tour entitled, Da Vinci: an Exhibition of Genius with Cotte's contributions in Mona Lisa's Secrets Revealed.

A zoomed-in image of Mona Lisa's left eye revealed a single brush stroke in the
eyebrow region, Cotte said.

"I am an engineer and scientist, so for me all has to be logical. It was not logical that Mona Lisa does not have any eyebrows or eyelashes," Cotte told LiveScience. "I discovered one hair of the eyebrow."

Another conundrum had been the position of the subject's right arm, which lies across her stomach. This was the first time, Cotte said, that a painter had rendered a subject's arm and wrist in such a position. While other artists had never understood da Vinci's reasoning, they copied it nonetheless.

Cotte discovered the pigment just behind the right wrist matched up perfectly with that of the painted cover that drapes across Mona Lisa's knee. So it did make sense: The forearm and wrist held up one side of a blanket. (PRNewsFoto/RYP Australia.)

Leonardo Da Vinci was meticulous in observing and writing everything down. his schematics for his inventions and master draftsmanship are works of arts in and of themselves. A Da Vinci exhibit is always worth seeing no matter where you are in the world. His notebooks remained unpublished until the twentieth century. The Mona Lisa has inspired bestselling fiction and researched non-fiction, Mona Lisa: Inside the Painting on one of the greatest minds to ever grace the planet, the Master, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Volcano Risk Extremely High, People Stay

Indonesian officials are evacuating thousands of reluctant angry people at gunpoint out of harm's way of a Mount Kelud volcanic eruption. Villagers and people living on farms on the slopes do not want to leave their livelihoods, crops and livestock behind, believing the mountain will not blow. At least 13,000 are refusing to leave the mountain with some of the survivors having experienced the 1990 eruption staying put. Over 100,000 people live in the immediate danger zone. Refugee camps are tense with frustrated people wanting to leave to check on property and loved ones after being forced by the police to go there. Volcanologists state there is no way to tell with absolute certainty that it will blow, but all signs, sulfur, ground tilt, continuous plumes of gas are present.
"I am afraid of the mountain erupting but so far there have been no signs - the trees near the crater are still green, animals such as monkeys, snakes and hogs haven't come down."
Volcanoes craters plump up in stages like a souffle, with a bubble of magma and gases getting bigger and then deflate to grow bigger the next time. This cooking magma stage has already passed in Java Indonesia. The lake at the crater has turned from a beautiful blue to white from vast amounts of sulfur. Heated water and an explosion could bring horrific mudslides as well. Indonesia is already part of the notorious volcanic and fault-ridden Ring of Fire with earthquakes heralding the arrival of a volcanic blast. On television, volcanic ash looks like giant flakes of snow, but if one breathes in too much of it, it will solidify in a person's lungs. The air fills with poisonous gas, asphyxiating people before the crater blows to release the molten magma burning at temperature high enough to melt steel. (BBC Photo)

Indonesia's top volcano expert, Surono, who goes by only one name, says people living within six miles of the mountain should leave. The government's motto is "safe life," he said.

While Surono would not say what he believes the chances are for an eruption, he did report that there has been "decreased volcanic earthquake activity since yesterday, but the temperature of the water in the volcano has increased to 38 degrees Celsius, which is only a slight increase, but still high." (AFP Photo)

Tempers and temperatures are running hot. Many are just walking out of the camps willing to take the risks. There are complaints of food shortages in the camps. This could turn into a long term nightmare with people penned in without any sure way of knowing for how long. The tension is getting to everyone with the UN looking at a disaster relief nightmare in urban areas and the camps should the volcano erupt. (AFP Photo)

Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change is illustrated fun and knowledge-filled in hefty paperback form from professional volcanologists; Richard V. Fisher, Grant Heinken and Jeffrey Hulen. The pictures are spectacular.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Apology from a Nobel Scientist Idiot

Dr. James Watson is supposedly smart, unlocked DNA double-helix secrets - won a Nobel Prize for that accomplishment, but put his mouth in high gear with no ability to stop his racist statements. Those cemented his legacy of stupidity in the world's mind. White people are inherently smarter, oh really? His statement aptly demonstrates that is not true by virtue of his unthinking utterance. Dr. Watson is apologizing for one of the biggest broad brush statements on race illustrating a gaping hole in his lacuna.

In an interview published Sunday in The Times of London, Dr. Watson is quoted as saying that while “there are many people of color who are very talented,” he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa.”

“All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

In a statement given to The Associated Press yesterday, Dr. Watson said, “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.” (AP Photo/ Graham Barclay)

Watson has inhabited the Earth for 79 years, clearly needing more education on matters of race and stereotyping. To use Africa, the cradle of civilization from whence people originated, as an example of inferiority is offensive. Africa from the Pyramids to Nelson Mandela have offered contributions to humankind that are held in the highest esteem. Hence his apology. Watson didn't mean what he said.

"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson said during an appearance at the Royal Society in London. "I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways that they have."

"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

Who knows what this will do to Dr. Watson's book sales, as he was about to embark on his book tour before igniting this firestorm. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suspended Watson from his duties as chancellor as they debate what to do about the furor. Knopf, his publisher, is in a quandary about how to responds as well. His book is the ironically titled, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Better Chance of Peace on Mars

On Earth, Peace is MIA and the trail is growing as cold as the Tibetan Himalayas. A number of nations are grumbling and pointing fingers at the USA because of its perceived meddling. China is beside itself with outrage that His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, received America's highest civilian honor, the Congressional medal of Honor over their strenuous objections in the rotunda of the US capital today. Pretty sure China's Ambassador to the US skipped the great eats and abundant drinks at the Dalai Lama's sweet after party and huffily pulled out of a meeting with Iran. Its beside the point the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959. (AP photo)

The 1915 Ottoman Turks are on the verge of being declared the cause of the Armenian genocide by the 2007 US Congress. Timing is everything. Turkey is wildly exercised at even the mere idea of being called to account for the deaths of over 1.5 million Armenians. First, in a diplomatic harrumph, the Turkish envoy left Washington at the behest of his government. Today, in a mix of self-preservation and political savvy, the Turkish parliament granted hunting rights for their army to invade the northern Kurdish areas to get PKK rebels in American-occupied Iraq. Under control of the Kurds, Iraq's oil rich northern border provides a base for separatists who want part of Turkey as their own state, to use guerrilla tactics and snipers against Turkey's military positioned on the border. The weather is worsening and leaves a short window for incursions for either side. (AP Photo)

Led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congress is appreciating that Turkey's leaders in Ankara are our only Muslim angry NATO ally and may choose to delay the non-binding blame measure. President Bush gave a butt-numbing press conference today exhorting the Congress to do what he says: No on the genocide bill, fund his Iraq war for 100 times more than it takes to cover poor children, and his contention that Iran could start World War III. The Bush trademarked Global War on Terror used to be the neoconservative's World War III. (AP Photo Kadir Konuksever)

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, went to Iran to forge ties and a possible arms deal with their controversial president, partly in reaction to president Bush speaking to putting missiles back on European soil as part of a defense shield.

Mr. Putin told a summit of five Caspian Sea nations, "We should not even think of using force in this region" – a veiled warning to the US not to strike Iran. But the Russian leader also sought a delicate balance on the nuclear issue, after a week of rebuffing top American officials over Washington's missile defense plans for Europe, and despite French and German leaders' hopes for a tougher line against Iran.

"From Iran's vantage point, this could not have come at a better time to drastically improve the geostrategic climate in Iran's favor, when Iran is under escalating pressure from the US and some allies," says Kaveh Afrasiabi, an Iran expert at Bentley College near Boston. "This summit works as an antidote to these pressures."

That was just yesterday in Our World. The topic of peace is a prolific one in books. Leo Tolstoy's epic Russian novel War and Peace remains one of the all time great contributions to literature. This translation is by Richard Peavere and Larrissa Volokhunsky.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Environmental Breakdancing

The lyrics to "I Feel Pretty" will not grace any pristine environmental areas on the planet. The glaciers are melting faster than scientists predicted. The Inuits are being displaced to higher ground as their homes go under along with the polar bears, seals and walruses. China is trying out stop driving for a day to cut down on the runaway pollution browning the skies and frying the air in Beijing. America has a major metropolitan city with a million plus people down to its last three months supply of water in Atlanta with Lake Lanier drying up. Canada is scratching its head over thousands of fish that died and decomposed in the river after officials waited to report the mess - during separate events twice.

China's leader Hu Jianto is declaring that China will rebalance its economy to reflect the need to stop Global Warming and its status as one of the top three worst polluters. Of course, this is a week of internal Chinese politics as the Communist Party Conference. They want those tourist dollars and the prestige of hosting the 2008 Olympics. After that, who knows.
President Hu Jintao promised to clean up China's polluted environment, pursue balanced trade and create global Chinese companies but announced no new reform initiatives Monday as he outlined the Communist Party's economic goals.
Certain factions in Korea are in a state of denial. Cough, ...
Now the site of one of the world's worst genocides, the Darfur region of western Sudan was a plentiful neighborhood until twenty years ago. Blessed with fertile land, black farmers welcomed Arab shepherds and they shared water. But rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean affected the monsoons and rainfall in the region fell by about 40 percent over the past two decades. As the soil dried up, the farmers and shepherds began to battle for the remaining green lands. With the resources woes compounded by religious and racial conflicts, Darfur has turned into a killing field with 200,000 dead since 2003.

With the glaciers of the equatorial Andes Mountains in Peru melting at a rapid pace, Peruvians face a serious threat to their survival. Without the glacier water that supplies 10 to 20 percent of the lowland water -- 40 percent during the dry season -- Peru's Pacific coast, home to 70 percent of the nation's population, could turn into desert.

Today is Blog Action Day. take action tell somebody the Earth is dying and we must stop pollution. Recycle, Reduce and Reuse! Sign up at World Changing for news alerts. Get involved. Read.

Rice's Undercooked Diplomacy

Noted Russian expert and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, went to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin. Vlad was not in the mood to be polite to Condi. Witnessing the shock and awe of Putin's delivery was US Secretary of Defense, Robert "Bob" Gates. Makes one wonder if the intelligence for an expected warm welcome was a slam dunk into a frigid Russian lake next to Putin's dacha. Imagine the call reporting back to the US president who had looked into Pooty-Poot's (Bush's nickname for the guy with a nuclear arsenal too) blazing eyes and knew his soul. This is what American foreign policy consists of these days. In a snippy granular rejoinder, Rice met with Russian Human Rights activists in Moscow at the Ambassador's residence, Spaso House, expressing opposition to Putin's Soviet era policies and his blatant diminishment of democratic ideals.

Mr. Putin’s surprise suggestion last month that he might yet remain in power — possibly as a newly empowered prime minister, possibly as the eminence atop the “party of power” — has left the White House stumped. The administration is uncertain how to deal with a man who has consolidated power almost exclusively in his own hands, even as Mr. Bush continues to call Mr. Putin “my friend.”

That is why a certain discomfort regarding Mr. Putin’s future hovered over two days of talks here attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“If you don’t have countervailing institutions, then the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” Ms. Rice said Saturday, raising concerns about the state of Russia’s judiciary, legislative branch and news media, but declining to criticize Mr. Putin by name.

The administration’s occasional scoldings have accomplished little except to harden anti-American views at the Kremlin and in the state news media. (A swaggering Mr. Putin opened the discussions on Friday with a sarcastic harangue over the American plans for missile defense.)

Rice, determined to cook up one honeymoon success out of thin air on her worldwide trip, jetted back into the Israel/Palestine 2000 year old dust-up for a 2007 West Bank photo-op throwing bon mots of getting the Peace process back on track. Yawn. Note to Condi - you have no worries on winning a Nobel Peace prize. Ever. Take heart in the fact that you are a certified head to toe fashionista though.

"We frankly have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op," she said.

Israelis and Palestinians, Rice added, are making their "most serious effort" in years to resolve the conflict.

"Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," she added.

Rice is on a four-day shuttle mission, trying to create some common ground ahead of the meeting. A State Department official hinted on Sunday that the conference might be postponed because of the gaps between the two sides. (AP Pool Photo/Muhammad Muheisen)

Meanwhile, Putin dismissed rampant rumors of an assassination attempt, confirming his intention to meet with Iranians in Tehran at the Caspian Summit and privately with President Ahmadinejad. Germany and Russia focused on trade talks during their high level discussions. Along with Germany's chancellor, Anne Merkel, he gave a press conference outlining his intent.

"A reliable source in one of the Russian special services, has received information from several sources outside Russia, that during the president of Russia's visit to Tehran an assassination attempt is being plotted," Interfax said.

Russian media are mostly controlled by the government and it would be unthinkable for a major Moscow news organization to report an alleged plot against the president without prior official approval.

But a planned private meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could give him a chance to seek a compromise over Tehran's nuclear program and to demonstrate his independence from Washington on Middle East issues.

Oh dear, this stuff is going to keep John LeCarre on his laptop for the next twenty years. This is a Russian president's first visit since the days of Joseph Stalin. That leaves many western establishments with a cold feeling that may perhaps be warmed up with a keepsake Iron curtain.

More on Condolezza Rice, her history and stunning rise can be found in the 2007 release from Marcus Mabry, Twice As Good: Condoleeza Rice and the Path to Power. Twice as good refers to a piece of conventional wisdom in the African American community that one has to be twice as good to merit the same opportunities as Caucasians. W.E.B. Du Bois called it the Talented Tenth.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Want Attention: Look Scared Out of Your Britches

In America, All Hallows Eve or Halloween is upcoming. Science now proves that terrifying monster garb or a faux axe in the skull are not necessary to gain attention. Just look scared. That's it. Scientific proof is available that neurons in the brain snap to attention faster when presented with someone else's bug eyed scared look, rather than their smile. What an economic saver as the H-costume is just a frilly extra. The amygdala in the brain triggers the flight or flight response, not the fake catsup masquerading as blood. That may take the fun out of the trick or treat tradition.
U.S. researchers announced results which show that humans react faster to faces which show signs of fear. Their study is to be published in the November 2007 issue of Emotion. At the other end of the spectrum was the happy face, which triggers a very weak response. The happy expressions were actually registered slower than even the neutral expressions.
"Fearful eyes are a particular shape, where you get more of the whites of the eye showing. That may be the sort of simple feature that the amygdala can pick up on, because it's only getting a fairly crude representation," said Dr. Zald.
Smiling just doesn't do it for the brain. A smile is likely to trigger a tepid response and keeps defenses down. Fear cause all sorts of physiological reactions in the body in response. It goes a mighty long way towards explaining the appeal of the adrenaline rush when watching horror flicks or reading well crafted terrifying fiction. Many people like that feeling. How the scientists gaged the time difference in the reactions is fascinating.
Smiles may take a while, but a horrified expression is a sure-fire attention getter, U.S. researchers said on Sunday, based on a study of how fast people process facial expressions.

To find out which images get the brain's attention first, Zald, graduate student Eunice Yang and colleagues used a technique called visual flash suppression that slows down the brain's responses to facial expressions -- which typically register in less than 40 milliseconds.

The researchers had people look into a special viewer that allowed each eye to see different images at the same time. "If you present different images to the two eyes, usually you will only perceive one of them at a time," Zald explained.

The image that registers with the brain typically depends on which eye is dominant for that person. (photo courtesy Vanderbilt University)

Interesting is each person has a dominant eye, not a mythical third eye, that gets first call on individual reaction. An oustanding book that explores the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, is the seminal best-selling work from Harvard's Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter more Than IQ.

For a great scary read, the master of the dark imagination, Stephen King is the man. Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile successful movies after being great classic books from a writer delving into his vat of immense talent and dark creative genius.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

London Art Scene: Pick A Frieze Price

London is having an international art fair that caters to every taste and any wallet. Difficult to pull off with 28 countries, 1000 artists and over 150 galleries participating, but it means anything goes as the Art fair splits up to accommodate the freebies, the disturbing and the ultra chic. October 11 - 14 encompasses the fifth Frieze Art Fair and since the 8th there has been the Free Art Fair on Seymour Place ending on the 14th. The vast inventory of art available worries those who still seek extensive art profits amidst a global credit squeeze. All about the Art, for the sake of the art , is quaint to those ruthless speculators seeking the next new Artiste. Full success for moneyed interests for the London Frieze Art Fair are auction and sales of over 300 million pounds or $250 million USD.
Hedge-fund art advisors and VIP collectors converge on London’s Frieze Art Fair on Wednesday, as dealers fret that sales will be hurt by financial-market turbulence and threatened bonus cuts.

“You have to be foolish to not be concerned because Wall Street and the hedge funds are a lot of our clients,” said New York gallery director Natalia Mager Sacasa of Luhring Augustine. “When they start to lose money, it affects how they collect.”
Courtesy Jablonka Galerie At Jablonka Galerie's booth: David LaChapelle, "Deluge" (2007)

For those inclined to wonder, marvel and wander off the beaten path, there are a number of galleries sponsoring artists that never get this type of platform. Friezes are everywhere. At the conclusion of the Free Art Fair, no matter what's left at what price point, it is given away. Say what? That is quite the incentive to stick around as a bitter ender depending on one's taste level. (photo NYT Jonathon Player)

"I thought we should do something different from what everyone else is doing at this time of year and non-commercial," he said, "and something that excites people and values art, not selling. This gives anyone the chance to own a serious piece of art."

Will you just end up with a piece of paper with a scribble on? The organisers say no, not unless that's what the artist does anyway.

At Frieze, meanwhile, Jake and Dinos Chapman will doodle on your money for free, probably increasing the value of your fiver by a hefty amount. Bonkers.

The seamier side of the spending frenzy that is Frieze is being examined in the exhibition Decadence, Decay and the Demimonde, at 92 George Street, London W1.

NYT photo by Jonathon Player of "Untitled" by artist Richard Prince

Friezes are a important to history and the ancient Greeks were masters of the art form. Architectural projects were a favorite of the industrious Greeks to uniquely mark buildings and tell stories. Italians made use of the art form in beautiful bas reliefs in the 14th century. Modern friezes are unrestrained and use a multitude of mediums to make an artist's point of view manifest.

From Jennifer Niels comes The Parthenon Frieze, a well- researched complete book of the sculpted Ionic freize studied for two hundred years by architects and artisans.