Welcome to the ITBHU Chronicle, October 2009 Edition Chronicle Extra Section.
8 Mind-Boggling Optical Illusions
@ Oct 21, 2009
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Test your perception with these wild designs

By Olivia Putnal

If you’ve ever felt like you go a little cross-eyed after taking a peek at an optical illusion, then you know they can be a pretty intense phenomenon. What your eyes perceive when looking at one of these images is actually a visual illusion; you see the image as something different than what it is because the different cells and receptors in your eyes distinguish images and colors at dissimilar speeds. The eye can only receive a limited amount of visual stimuli, but as your brain constantly processes the visual information, it gives you the illusion of continuous sight. Whether it’s an optical, physiological or cognitive illusion, the design plays a trick on your eyes (and mind). Check out some of the interesting illusions below—but beware, you may not be able to absorb them all in one sitting.

Flowing Leaves






The brown leaf shapes against a green background make this look as if the entire group is flowing—making waves if you focus on the picture as a whole. Photo from Flickr

Pulsing Vortex






If you stare at this one long enough you’ll notice a fast and pulsing multicolored vortex. Photo from Flickr






The blue almond-shaped objects look as if they’re all passing over three separate columns. Photo from Flickr






Although this image is comprised of simple purple and green squares outlined in black, it looks like it is bulging out in the center. Photo from Flickr






A collection of black, blue, green and white shapes appears to be five different kaleidoscope-type figures—each swirling toward their centers. Photo from Flickr






The black and white circular lines make this illusion seem as if there are various depths in the image, creating different entryways and tunnels. Photo courtesy of Paco Calvino






If you stare at the center of the image, it looks as if the outer rings are rotating in alternating directions—an effect meant to mesmerize the viewer. Photo courtesy of Todd A. Carpenter






These bright purple and green star-like shapes appear to be moving, which can be a little nauseating if you stare at it for too long. Photo courtesy of Angie Armstrong


Additional Link

Cynosure-optical illusion and hours of fun!


It is a great work by Akiyoshi KITAOKA, Professor, Department of Psychology, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He explains by means of hundreds of colourful art works, how a human mind perceives an optical illusion.

"Rotating snakes"





Circular snakes appear to rotate 'spontaneously'.



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Photo Gallery
President Obama celebrates Diwali in Whitehouse
@ Oct 21, 2009
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Diwali Wishes from President Obama

Posted by Kalpen Modi

On October 14th, President Obama observed the auspicious holiday of Diwali, or festival of lights, in the East Room of the White House. The occasion marked the first time that an American President has observed the holiday. Sri Narayanachar Digalakote, a Sanskrit scholar and ordained Hindu priest of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lantham, Maryland chanted Asatoma Sadgamaya from the Upanishads while the President lit the White House diya.

In addition to the observance, the President signed a White House Initiative reestablishing the Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The University of Pennsylvania acapella group Penn Masala opened the ceremony with a multilingual performance of the song "Aicha." Shekar Narasimhan and the Temple provided sweets to attendees, who included folks from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, members of Congress, and dignitaries; included in the audience were Wat Misaka, the NBA’s first non-white basketball player (New York Knicks) who also served in World War Two, fusion music artist DJ Rekha, Vinai Thummalapally (US Ambassador to Belize), and Indian Ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar.

In addition to the East Room observance, President Obama has also extended his holiday wishes through a video, which you can watch here:


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download .mp4 (42 MB)

Kalpen Modi is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement


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World's first underwater cabinet meet held in Maldives
@ Oct 21, 2009
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Posted: Saturday, Oct 17, 2009 at 1428 hrs


Maldivian cabinet met at the bottom of the sea, marking the first ever such meeting to be held underwater, which framed an SOS to global leaders to save their a toll nation from being submerged by the rising seas.


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(Maldives ministers in scuba gear hold an underwater Cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of global warming.)

The SOS in the shape of a declaration was approved at the 25-minute cabinet meeting presided over by President Mohammad Nasheed.

The declaration will be presented at the Copenhagen meet on climate change in December, with Nasheed saying that Maldives was not the only country facing such a calamity.

"If it is Maldives today, you cannot save yourself tomorrow," the President of this picturesque group of coral islands said after surfacing from the meeting.

Nasheed and his cabinet colleagues scuba-dived to their underwater rendezvous and spent 45 minutes sitting across a number of tables immersed to the bottom of the sea, off the Girifushi island, about 35 nautical miles from capital Male.


Watch video on YouTube:


Maldives map


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"Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge" movie turns 15 years at Maratha Mandir theater today
@ Oct 21, 2009
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Maratha Mandir Movie Theater, Bombay


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(Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge-a 1995 Bollywood movie)


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Leaders of 16 Asian nations meet in Thailand
@ Oct 21, 2009
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(Photo: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-10/25/content_12323404.htm)

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has a working lunch with leaders (including Dr. Manmohan Singh) attending the fourth East Asia Summit in the southern Thai resort town of Hua Hin, Oct. 25, 2009. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)


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World's largest cruise ship (Oasis of the Seas) sails for US port
@ Oct 21, 2009
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(Oasis of the Seas)

HELSINKI – It's five times larger than the Titanic, has seven neighborhoods, an ice rink, a golf course and a 750-seat outdoor amphitheater. The world's largest cruise ship is finally finished and Friday it began gliding toward its home port in Florida.

The Oasis of the Seas will meet its first obstacle Saturday when exits the Baltic Sea and must squeeze under the Great Belt Bridge, which is just 1 foot taller than the ship — even after its telescopic smokestacks are lowered.

To be on the safe side, the ship — which rises about 20 stories high — will speed up so that it sinks deeper into the water when it passes below the span, said Lene Gebauer Thomsen, a spokeswoman for the operator of the Great Belt Bridge.

Once home, the $1.5 billion floating extravaganza will have more, if less visible, obstacles to duck: a sagging U.S. economy, questions about the consumer appetite for luxury cruises and criticism that such sailing behemoths are damaging to the environment and diminish the experience of traveling.

Travel guide writer Arthur Frommer has railed against Oasis and other mega ships he calls "floating resorts," suggesting that voyages on such large vessels are "a dumbing down of the cruise experience."

Oasis of the Seas, which is nearly 40 percent larger than the industry's next-biggest ship, was conceived years before the economic downturn caused desperate cruise lines to slash prices to fill vacant berths.

"Obviously we did not want or anticipate she'd be born into the most significant economic downturn since the Depression," Royal Caribbean International President & CEO Adam Goldstein told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month. "Even in this environment, we're excited about her."

It sets sail as cruise lines clamor to increase capacity, adding newer — and bigger — ships to their fleets.

The Oasis of the Seas has 2,700 cabins and can accommodate 6,300 passengers and 2,100 crew members. Company officials are banking that its novelty will help guarantee its success.

The enormous ship features various "neighborhoods" — parks, squares and arenas with special themes. One of them will be a tropical environment, including palm trees and vines among the total 12,000 plants on board. They will be planted after the ship arrives in Fort Lauderdale.

In the stern, a 750-seat outdoor theater — modeled on an ancient Greek amphitheater — doubles as a swimming pool by day and an ocean front theater by night. The pool has a diving tower with spring boards and two 33-foot high-dive platforms. An indoor theater seats 1,300 guests.

Accommodations include loft cabins, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and 1,600-square-foot luxury suites with balconies overlooking the sea or promenades.

One of the "neighborhoods," named Central Park, features a square with boutiques, restaurants and bars, including a bar that moves up and down three decks, allowing customers to get on and off at different levels.

The liner also has four swimming pools, volleyball and basketball courts, and a youth zone with theme parks and nurseries for children.

Frommer suggests that such ships should never even leave port: "Who would know the difference?"

"If the life on ship were a vital one, then you might justify building a ship so large," Frommer told the AP in an e-mail exchange. "But when the activities program consists largely of ziplines, surf-boarding, rock-climbing, a boxing ring, and imitations of Cirque de Soleil, when the lecture program deals with napkin-folding (the subject matter on other humongous ships operated by the same company), then there doesn't seem much appeal to well-read, intellectually curious people."

Paul Motter, editor of Cruisemates.com, has said that other critics have also complained that these huge ships flood ports of call, dumping 5,000 people all at once in an area.

Motter said suites are sold out for most of the sailings. Junior suites are mostly sold out and there is availability in inside, ocean view and balcony rooms.

He said ticket prices are still high for the Oasis, running $1,299 to $4,829, compared with $509 to $1,299 on the company's next most popular ship, Freedom of the Seas.

While environmentalists have said that the ship does not do enough to reduce air pollution and burns more fuel than a land-based resort, engineers at shipbuilder STX Finland said environmental considerations played an important part in planning the vessel. It dumps no sewage into the sea, reuses its waste water and consumes 25 percent less power than similar, but smaller, cruise liners.

"I would say this is the most environmentally friendly cruise ship to date," said Mikko Ilus, project engineer at the Turku yard. "It is much more efficient than other similar ships."

The Oasis of the Seas is due to make its U.S. debut on Nov. 20 at its home port, Port Everglades in Florida.

Watch video:



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Jaipur oil depot fire: Rs 500 crore goes up in flames
@ Oct 21, 2009
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TNN 31 October 2009, 01:22am IST

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Jaipur fire

JAIPUR: As Rs 500 crore worth of fuel burned through the second day of the Jaipur inferno, there were two questions no one had answered satisfactorily. How did it happen? And how many had died in the blaze that started with a blast on Thursday evening?

Although officials have confirmed five deaths, six others present at the site at the time of the fire are feared dead. Five bodies have been recovered but the IOC employees are still untraced. Many more are critical in the city's hospitals.

``It's not known whether these employees are dead but they were at the depot during the time of the fire. Those declared dead are people who had been admitted to various hospitals since Thursday,'' Rajasthan home secretary Pradip Sen said.

During the day, petroleum minister Murli Deora visited the site but could not throw much light on what exactly triggered the killer blaze and how it spun out of control. He was resigned to the fact that there was no way but to let the one lakh kilolitres of fuel in IOC's 11 tankers at the oil depot in Sitapura Industrial Area to just burn out.

But experts were unanimous: the incident happened due to human negligence. There were other who said timely action could have prevented the scale of damage. ``There were alarms, and the smell of oil. That should have been enough to warn officials. They should have acted instantly. But it seems they took it easy and let things go out of control,'' said an expert from Jamnagar.

``We had heard the wails of a siren on the IOC premises hours before the fire and the blast. The entire area smelled of oil. Why is it then that preventive measures were not taken in time?'' said Mohammed Zabbal, who works at Genus, a factory near the IOC depot. His factory was gutted and he sustained splinter injuries and is now admitted at Sawai Man Singh Hospital.

On Thursday, IOC officials said that based on preliminary reports the fire broke out after a pipeline valve failed when petrol was being transferred from the IOC terminal to Bharat Petroleum's terminal just a little distance away.

While officials stuck to the leak theory, they found it difficult to pinpoint what provided the spark. Some suggested that the power which had been cut off at around 4.30 pm following reports of a gas leak from the depot was switched on again around 7.30 pm, before they had received the all-clear. Some others suggested that a minor earthquake triggered the blaze.

On Friday it was decided that a central committee would probe the blaze. The five-member team will be headed by former HPCL chairman and managing director, M B Lal. The committee is to submit its report in six weeks, Deora said. He was accompanied by Indian Oil chairman Sarthak Behuria, who has been instructed to personally oversee the operations. ( Watch Video )

The state has also set up a committee to assess the damages in nearby factories. Initial estimates suggest factories in the Sitapura area took a Rs 300-crore hit because of the blaze.

The flames, though a bit subdued, have thrown up huge columns of thick, black smoke which are blocking sunlight. ``There is little we can do. The fuel has to burn itself out before we can start any operation,'' Deora said after an early morning inspection. Deora, on behalf of the IOC, also announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the dead, Rs 2 lakh for those severely injured and Rs 1 lakh for those who suffered simple injuries.

Through the day fire experts of IOC from Mathura, Delhi, Panipat, and those from ONGC Hazira, just stood and watched the leaping flames. By afternoon an area of 5 km radius around the fire was cordoned off.

``There are chances of further blasts from the depot and that is why we do not want anyone to come near it. Moreover, the toxic fumes can be injurious to health,'' said district collector Kuldeep Ranka.

All educational institutions and industries in the area remained shut through the day. Even train and bus routes plying through the area were changed. The Mahatma Gandhi Hopsital that lies in the Sitapura area was vacated.


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Topics- Business & Economy
How the Servant Became a Predator: Finance's Five Fatal Flaws
@ Oct 20, 2009
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William K. Black

Assoc. Professor, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City; Sr. regulator during S&L debacle

Posted: October 12, 2009 07:14 PM

What exactly is the function of the financial sector in our society? Simply this: Its sole function is supplying capital efficiently to aid the real economy. The financial sector is a tool to help those that make real tools, not an end in itself. But five fatal flaws in the financial sector's current structure have created a monster that drains the real economy, promotes fraud and corruption, threatens democracy, and causes recurrent, intensifying crises.

1. The financial sector harms the real economy.

Even when not in crisis, the financial sector harms the real economy. First, it is vastly too large. The finance sector is an intermediary -- essentially a "middleman". Like all middlemen, it should be as small as possible, while still being capable of accomplishing its mission. Otherwise it is inherently parasitical. Unfortunately, it is now vastly larger than necessary, dwarfing the real economy it is supposed to serve. Forty years ago, our real economy grew better with a financial sector that received one-twentieth as large a percentage of total profits (2%) than does the current financial sector (40%). The minimum measure of how much damage the bloated, grossly over-compensated finance sector causes to the real economy is this massive increase in the share of total national income wasted through the finance sector's parasitism.

Second, the finance sector is worse than parasitic. In the title of his recent book, The Predator Statehttp://books.simonandschuster.com/Predator-State/James-Galbraith/9781416566830, James Galbraith aptly names the problem. The financial sector functions as the sharp canines that the predator state uses to rend the nation. In addition to siphoning off capital for its own benefit, the finance sector misallocates the remaining capital in ways that harm the real economy in order to reward already-rich financial elites harming the nation. The facts are alarming:

* Corporate stock repurchases and grants of stock to officers have exceeded new capital raised by the U.S. capital markets this decade. That means that the capital markets decapitalize the real economy. Too often, they do so in order to enrich corrupt corporate insiders through accounting fraud or backdated stock options.

* The U.S. real economy suffers from critical shortages of employees with strong mathematical, engineering, and scientific backgrounds. Graduates in these three fields all too frequently choose careers in finance rather than the real economy because the financial sector provides far greater executive compensation. Individuals with these quantitative backgrounds work overwhelmingly in devising the kinds of financial models that were important contributors to the financial crisis. We take people that could be conducting the research & development work essential to the success of our real economy (including its success in becoming sustainable) and put them instead in financial sector activities where, because of that sector's perverse incentives, they further damage both the financial sector and the real economy. Michael Moore makes this point in his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

* The financial sector's fixation on accounting earnings leads it to pressure U.S manufacturing and service firms to export jobs abroad, to deny capital to firms that are unionized, and to encourage firms to use foreign tax havens to evade paying U.S. taxes.

* It misallocates capital by creating recurrent financial bubbles. Instead of flowing to the places where it will be most useful to the real economy, capital gets directed to the investments that create the greatest fraudulent accounting gains. The financial sector is particularly prone to providing exceptional amounts of funds to what I call accounting "control frauds". Control frauds are seemingly-legitimate entities used by the people that control them as a fraud "weapons." In the financial sector, accounting frauds are the weapons of choice. Accounting control frauds are so attractive to lenders and investors because they produce record, guaranteed short-term accounting "profits." They optimize by growing rapidly like other Ponzi schemes, making loans to borrowers unlikely to be able to repay them (once the bubble bursts), and engaging in extreme leverage. Unless there is effective regulation and prosecution, this misallocation creates an epidemic of accounting control fraud that hyper-inflates financial bubbles. The FBI began warning of an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud in its congressional testimony in September 2004. It also reports that 80% of mortgage fraud losses come when lender personnel are involved in the fraud. (The other 20% of the fraud would have been impossible had these fraudulent lenders not suborned their underwriting systems and their internal and external controls in order to maximize their growth of bad loans.)

* Because the financial sector cares almost exclusively about high accounting yields and "profits", it misallocates capital away from firms and entrepreneurs that could best improve the real economy (e.g., by reducing short-term profits through funding the expensive research & development that can produce innovative goods and superior sustainability) and could best reduce poverty and inequality (e.g., through microcredit finance that would put the "Payday lenders" and predatory mortgage lenders out of business).

* It misallocates capital by securing enormous governmental subsidies for financial firms, particularly those that have the greatest political power and would otherwise fail due to incompetence and fraud.

2. The financial sector produces recurrent, intensifying economic crises here and abroad.

The current crisis is only the latest in a long list of economic crises caused by the financial sector. When it is not regulated and policed effectively, the financial sector produces and hyper-inflates bubbles that cause severe economic crises. The current crisis, absent massive, global governmental bailouts, would have caused the catastrophic failure of the global economy. The financial sector has become far more unstable since this crisis began and its members used their lobbying power to convince Congress to gimmick the accounting rules to hide their massive losses. Secretary Geithner has exacerbated the problem by declaring that the largest financial institutions are exempt from receivership regardless of their insolvency. These factors greatly increase the likelihood that these systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) will cause a global financial crisis.

3. The financial sector's predation is so extraordinary that it now drives the upper one percent of our nation's income distribution and has driven much of the increase in our grotesque income inequality.

4. The financial sector's predation and its leading role in committing and aiding and abetting accounting control fraud combine to:

* Corrupt financial elites and professionals, and

* Spur a rise in Social Darwinism in an attempt to justify the elites' power and wealth. Accounting control frauds suborn accountants, attorneys, and appraisers and create what is known as a "Gresham's dynamic" -- a system in which bad money drives out good. When this dynamic occurs, honest professionals are pushed out and cheaters are allowed to prosper. Executive compensation has become so massive, so divorced from performance, and so perverse that it, too, creates a Gresham's dynamic that encourages widespread accounting fraud by both financial firms and firms in the real economy.

As financial sector elites became obscenely wealthy through predation and fraud, their psychological incentives to embrace unhealthy, anti-democratic Social Darwinism surged. While they were, by any objective measure, the worst elements of the public, their sycophants in the media and the recipients of their political and charitable contributions worshiped them as heroic. Finance CEOs adopted and spread the myth that they were smarter, harder working, and more innovative than the rest of us. They repeated the story of how they rose to the top entirely through their own brilliance and willingness to embrace risk. All of their employees weren't simply above average, they told us, but exceptional. They hated collectivism and adored Ayn Rand.

5. The CEOs of the largest financial firms are so powerful that they pose a critical risk to the financial sector, the real economy, and our democracy.

The CEOs can directly, through the firm, and by "bundling" contributions of its officers and employees, easily make enormous political contributions and use their PR firms and lobbyists to manipulate the media and public officials. The ability of the financial sector to block meaningful reform after bringing the world to the brink of a second great depression proves how exceptional its powers are to corrupt nearly every critical sector of American public and economic life. The five largest U.S. banks control roughly half of all bank assets. They use their political and financial power to provide themselves with competitive advantages that allow them to dominate smaller banks.

This excessive power was a major contributor to the ongoing crisis. Effective financial and securities regulation was anathema to the CEOs' ideology (and the greatest danger to their frauds, wealth, and power) and they successfully set out to destroy it. That produced what criminologists refer to as a "criminogenic environment" (an atmosphere that breeds criminal activity) that prompted the epidemic of accounting control fraud that hyper-inflated the housing bubble.

The financial industry's power and progressive corruption combined to produce the perfect white-collar crimes. They successfully lobbied politicians, for example, to legalize the obscenity of "dead peasants' insurance" (in which an employer secretly takes out insurance on an employee and receives a windfall in the event of that person's untimely death) that Michael Moore exposes in chilling detail. State legislatures changed the law to allow a pure tax scam to subsidize large corporations at the expense of their taxpayers.

Caution: Never Forget the Need to Fix the Real Economy

Economic reform efforts are focused almost entirely on fixing finance because the finance sector is so badly broken that it produces recurrent, intensifying crises. The latest crisis brought us to the point of global catastrophe, so the focus on finance is obviously rational. But the focus on finance carries a grave risk. Remember, the sole purpose of finance is to aid the real economy. Our ultimate focus needs to be on the real economy, which creates goods and services, our jobs, and our incomes. The real economy came off the rails at least three decades ago for the great majority of Americans.

We need to commit to fixing the real economy by guaranteeing that everyone willing to work can work and making the real economy sustainable rather than recurrently causing global environmental crises. We must not spend virtually all of our reform efforts on the finance sector and assume that if we solve its defects we will have solved the other fundamental reasons why the real economy has remained so dysfunctional for decades. We need to be work simultaneously to fix finance and the real economy.

Roosevelt Institute Braintruster William K. Black is an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a white-collar criminologist and was a senior financial regulator. He is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One.

*Originally published on the Roosevelt Institute's blog, New Deal 2.0.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-k-black/how-the-servant-became-a_b_318010.html


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U.S. budget deficit biggest since 1945 at $1.42 trillion
@ Oct 20, 2009
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Obama administration closes the books on fiscal 2009: Falling revenue plus soaring spending leads to a $1.42 trillion deficit.

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer

Last Updated: October 16, 2009: 5:04 PM ET





NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's officially official.

The Obama administration on Friday said the government ran a $1.42 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2009.

That made it the worst year on record since World War II, according to data from the Treasury and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Tax receipts for the year fell 16.6% overall, while spending soared 18.2% compared to fiscal year 2008. The causes: rising unemployment, the economic slowdown and the extraordinary measures taken by lawmakers to stem the economic meltdown that hit in fall 2008.

Consequently, the annual deficit rose 212% to the record dollar amount of $1.42 trillion, from $455 billion a year earlier.

As a share of the economy, the deficit accounted for 10% of gross domestic product, up from 3.2% in 2008. As breath-taking as that may be, it's still not in the same stratosphere as the 1945 deficit, which hit 21% of GDP.

Perfect deficit cocktail mix

Fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30, had all the right ingredients for a record-breaking deficit.

While tax revenue overall took a big hit, corporate receipts led the way, falling 55%. Individual income tax revenue fell 20%.

At the same time spending jumped in large part because of the various economic and financial rescue measures undertaken. The Treasury and the OMB noted that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program and the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, not all of which has been used, accounted for 24% of the deficit total.

As a result, the country is very near to breaching its so-called debt ceiling, currently set at $12.1 trillion. Lawmakers, however, are expected to vote to raise that ceiling this fall.

At the end of September, the country's total debt -- which is an accumulation of all annual deficits to date plus other obligations -- stood at $11.9 trillion.

The long-term view

In August, the OMB projected a 10-year deficit of $9 trillion, assuming President Obama's 2010 budget proposals are put in place.

A deficit of that magnitude means the debt held by the public would approach 82% of gross domestic product. That's double the 41% recorded in 2008.

0:00 /6:16Deficit in critical condition

Most budget experts blanch at the thought, especially given that the country's fiscal future was already a source of concern before the economic crisis because of expected shortfalls over time in funding for Medicare and Social Security.

The financial and economic meltdowns of the past year have accelerated the strain on federal coffers. So much so that now the 10-year forecast as well as the longer-term outlook are considered unsustainable, according to deficit experts William Gale and Alan Auerbach.

In a report this week, the Government Accountability Office noted that the deficits born from the financial crisis are not the biggest crux of the problem.

"While a lot of attention has been given to the recent fiscal deterioration, the federal government faces even larger fiscal challenges that will persist long after the return of financial stability and economic growth," the GAO said.

The GAO further cautioned that the yawning deficit problems should be addressed sooner rather than later.

"The longer action to deal with the nation's long-term fiscal outlook is delayed, the larger the changes will need to be, increasing the likelihood that they will be disruptive and destabilizing."

The Obama administration is promising to put a plan in place to lessen the deficit when the economy recovers.

"It was critical that we acted to bring the economy back from the brink earlier this year. As we move from rescue to recovery, the president recognizes that we need to put the nation back on a fiscally sustainable path," said OMB director Peter Orszag in a statement. "As part of the FY2011 budget policy process, we are considering proposals to put our country back on firm fiscal footing."


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US Economy finally back in gear-3rd quarter GDP grew at 3.5%
@ Oct 20, 2009
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Government says GDP grew 3.5% in third quarter, ending a year-long string of declines and coming in better than forecasts.

By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer

Last Updated: October 29, 2009: 12:46 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate in the third quarter, ending a string of declines over four quarters that resulted in the most severe slide since the Great Depression. But some economists raised doubts about how long such strong growth can last.

The increase in GDP, reported by the government Thursday morning, was slightly better than expectations. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast 3.2% growth in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic activity. The economy shrank at a 0.7% rate in the second quarter.

The positive GDP report is one more sign that the economy has likely pulled out of the deep recession that started in December 2007.

The reading by itself doesn't mark an end to the recession; the economy actually grew in the second quarter of 2008. (The National Bureau of Economic Research, which officially dates the beginning and end of recessions, is not expected to declare that the current recession has ended until sometime in 2010.)

How stocks are reacting

But the stronger-than-expected growth is likely to lead more economists to declare that the economy hit bottom earlier this year and turned higher at some point in the summer.

Businesses continued to reduce inventories, but by a much slower pace than in the past. That helped to lift the overall GDP growth rate by nearly a full percentage point.

The slashing of production in jobs in the face of weak demand has been one of the strongest drags on the economy during the past four quarters.

Robert Brusca, an economist with FAO Economics said that the fact that businesses are still cutting inventories "tells us that the economy has not yet turned any corner very sharply."

But Bill Hampel, chief economist of the Credit Union National Association, said it's encouraging that the economy was able to grow at all without businesses actually rebuilding inventory. He said that is a positive sign of growth yet to come.

"The inventories still need to be replenished, and when they are, it will give us an even bigger lift," he said. "I don't think this report is a sign of a booming economy, but it does seem to be setting down roots that will be sustainable."

Is the growth sustainable?

A rebound in auto sales, which were helped by the government's Cash for Clunkers program, also provided a boost to GDP. The economic stimulus package, with public works projects and aid to state and federal governments, boosted growth as well.

Christina Romer, chair of the White House's Council of Economic Advisors, said in a statement that stimulus added between 3 and 4 percentage points to growth this quarter, suggesting that the economy would have shown little or no growth without the bump from government spending.

Romer also noted that the swing from a 6.4% rate of decline in GDP during the first quarter to the third quarter's 3.5% rise is the biggest six-month turnaround in the economy since 1980.

"However, this welcome milestone is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered," she said.

The fact that much of the gain was from these short-term programs raises some concerns about whether the economy can keep growing over the next few quarters.

There were other signs of growth that were more encouraging, however. Consumer spending rose at a 3.4% rate, the biggest increase in nearly three years. Spending by consumers accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

"Final sales continue to improve and this provides the underlying demand for growth," said John Silvia, chief economist for Wells Fargo Securities. "Our expectations are for moderate growth, not a boom."

But David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for investment bank Gluskin Sheff, said that the recent weak readings on consumer confidence show that only economists think the recession is over.

"The man on the street sees it a little differently," he said. And consumer concerns about continued economic hard times are likely to put a crimp on the spending needed to get the economy moving again.

"There is going to be some very tough slogging ahead," he said.

Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands, added that it is unreasonable to expect more big increases in consumer spending going forward -- especially if job losses continue to mount.

"Consumers are in no position to go on another spending spree," he said. "Potential employers want to make sure that the economic recovery will be sustained before hiring people. Without jobs, consumers are unlikely to open their wallets."

Housing, which has been a drag on the economy since the popping of the real estate bubble in early 2006, contributed to the economy's growth as well. Investments in residential real estate surged 23% in the quarter.

Other reports in recent weeks have shown that housing sales, home prices and new home construction rose during the quarter. But the housing market also got a lift from the $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers that is due to expire next month.

Hampel said that the gains in housing go far beyond the impact of the tax credit, however.

"The first time buyer credit is icing on the cake, but the fundamentals of housing have turned positive," he said.


Are things really getting better?

Last quarter, the economy grew by the largest amount since the summer of 2007, but there are signs that things are still getting worse.

GDP: Strong return to growth





What it is: Gross domestic product is the broadest measure of the nation's economy. GDP measures what individuals, businesses and the government spend as well as the net impact of the nation's imports and exports.

Why it's important: Economists use GDP as one of several data points to determine whether the economy is in a period of recession or expansion. The 2008-2009 recession was one of the deepest ever -- it was the first time in history in which the economy retreated for four straight quarters.

Where we're headed: The economy returned to positive growth in the last three months after contracting by 3.7% since the recession began. But experts warn that government stimulus programs like Cash for Clunkers contributed strongly to the economic expansion and that the economic recovery is more fragile than the GDP numbers may suggest.


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Topics- PC, Internet & Information Technology
Google Music Gives Users New Way To Search And Listen
@ Oct 20, 2009
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Oct 29 2009 10:50 AM EDT

Partnerships with labels, MySpace, Rhapsody and others make streams, MP3s easier to find.

By Kyle Anderson

Looking to apply their powerful search engine to the world of music, Google officially launched their new music discovery service. Not so much a new site as it is a new set of integrated options added to normal search results, Google Music connects people searching for artists, songs or lyrics with free streams of tracks care of MySpace's iLike and Lala and with links to purchase songs and albums from one of Google Music's partners.






"Music is a big part of our lives. In fact, two of our top 10 queries of all time are music related," explains the introductory video on Google Music's home page. "We think it's time to bring the power of our search to the music industry, so that you can not only find but also discover music."

So far, Google has agreements with EMI, Sony, Universal and Warnor Bros. for music and Lala, iLike (owned by MySpace), Pandora, Rhapsody and Imeem for streaming and sales. Each search for a relevant artist or song yields a handful of links to free streams. (You're limited to one full freebie per song; after that, you're limited to 30-second snippets).

A cursory test drive yielded pretty excellent results: A search for Beyoncé lead to a streaming version of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" in seconds, and even digging up Mystikal's turn-of-the-century hit "Shake Ya Ass" was no trouble at all. Though the demo video shows the music search working directly from the Google homepage, as of press time, it worked only from the Google Music page.

The lyrics engine is a little less exact. Though they've partnered with a Sony database called Gracenote that houses all manner of lyrics, it's a little wonky. Searching for choruses generally works, but poking around for deeper lyrics is more troublesome: A search for the line "After the show it's the after party" (from R. Kelly's "Ignition [Remix]") didn't bring up any options, and when digging for Biggie's line "I don't give a f--- about you or your weak crew," Google brought up DMX's "Bring Your Whole Crew" (a noble effort, but wrong).

Still, Google's new music-centric search could change the way people look for and purchase music online. And with the added relationship to sites like Rhapsody and Pandora, there will be options for discovery as well.


Google Music






Discover Music

Find music faster and easier using Google


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Topics- Science & Technology
Rethinking relativity: Is Time out of Joint?
@ Oct 20, 2009
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21 October 2009 by Rachel Courtland

EVER since Arthur Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe off Africa to measure starlight bending around the sun during a 1919 eclipse, evidence for Einstein's theory of general relativity has only become stronger. Could it now be that starlight from distant galaxies is illuminating cracks in the theory's foundation?





Starlight behaving oddly (Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/E.-H Peng et al; Optical: NASA/STScI)

Everything from the concept of the black hole to GPS timing owes a debt to the theory of general relativity, which describes how gravity arises from the geometry of space and time. The sun's gravitational field, for instance, bends starlight passing nearby because its mass is warping the surrounding space-time. This theory has held up to precision tests in the solar system and beyond, and has explained everything from the odd orbit of Mercury to the way pairs of neutron stars perform their pas de deux.

Yet it is still not clear how well general relativity holds up over cosmic scales, at distances much larger than the span of single galaxies. Now the first, tentative hint of a deviation from general relativity has been found. While the evidence is far from watertight, if confirmed by bigger surveys, it may indicate either that Einstein's theory is incomplete, or else that dark energy, the stuff thought to be accelerating the expansion of the universe, is much weirder than we thought (see "Not dark energy, dark fluid").

The analysis of starlight data by cosmologist Rachel Bean of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has generated quite a stir. Shortly after the paper was published on the pre-print physics archive, prominent physicist Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena praised Bean's research. "This is serious work by a respected cosmologist," he wrote on his blog Cosmic Variance. "Either the result is wrong, and we should be working hard to find out why, or it's right, and we're on the cusp of a revolution."

If it is wrong, we should be working hard to find out why, but if it's right, we are on the cusp of a revolution

"It has caused quite a furore in astronomy circles," says Richard Massey of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh in the UK. "This paper has generated a lot of interest."

Bean found her evidence lurking in existing data collected by the Cosmic Evolution Survey, a multi-telescope imaging project that includes the longest survey yet by the Hubble Space Telescope. COSMOS, which detected more than 2 million galaxies over a small patch of sky, takes advantage of gravity's ability to bend light. Massive objects like galaxy clusters bend the light of more distant objects so that it is directed towards or away from Earth. This effect, called gravitational lensing, is at its most dramatic when it creates kaleidoscopic effects like luminous rings or the appearance of multiple copies of a galaxy.

The sky is also dominated by the distorting effects of "weak lensing", in which intervening matter bends light to subtly alter the shapes and orientations of more distant galaxies, creating an effect similar to that of looking through old window glass. Since galaxies come in all shapes and sizes, it is difficult to know whether the light from an individual galaxy has been distorted, because there is nothing to compare it with. But by looking for common factors in the distortion of many galaxies, it is possible to build up a map of both the visible and even unseen matter that bend their light.

The weak lensing technique can also be used to measure two different effects of gravity. General relativity calls for gravity's curvature of space to be equivalent to its curvature of time. Light should be influenced in equal amounts by both.

When the COSMOS data was released in 2007, the team - led by Massey - assumed these two factors were equivalent. Their analysis revealed that gravitational tugs on light were stronger than anticipated, but they put this down to a slightly higher concentration of ordinary and dark matter in the survey's patch of sky than had been predicted.

To look for potential deviations from general relativity, Bean reanalysed the data and dropped the requirement that these two components of gravity had to be equal. Instead the ratio of the two was allowed to change in value. She found that between 8 and 11 billion years ago gravity's distortion of time appeared to be three times as strong as its ability to curve space. An observer around at the time wouldn't have noticed the effect because it only applies over large distances. Nonetheless, "there is a preference for a significant deviation from general relativity", says Bean (www.arxiv.org/abs/0909.3853).

Gravity's distortion of time appeared to be three times as strong as its ability to curve space

At this stage, it's hard to say what would happen if the deviation from general relativity was confirmed. Cosmologists have already considered some modifications to general relativity that could explain the universe's acceleration (see "Not dark energy, dark fluid").

Yet finding a deviation when the universe was less than half its current age is odd - if general relativity had broken down at some level, the signs should be most dramatic more recently, long after the repulsive effect of dark energy overwhelmed the attractive powers of gravity some 6 billion years ago.

Most astronomers, including Bean, are cautious about the results. "Nobody is yet betting money that the effect is real," says cosmologist Dragan Huterer of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Various other explanations, like a bias in the technique used to estimate the distances to galaxies, now need to be ruled out.

Although COSMOS photographed a deep patch of sky, it was fairly small by the standards of modern surveys. This opens up the possibility that this region might be anomalous, notes Asantha Cooray, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Irvine. "You could have a massive galaxy cluster that could boost your weak lensing signal up. Or by random chance you could have more dark matter," says Cooray, part of a team that analysed other survey data taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii and found no hint of a departure from general relativity. "The only way to take that into account is to look at data in a larger field."

Future projects will scan the sky over much wider areas and collect images of many more lensed galaxies. For example, the Dark Energy Survey is poised to start surveying the sky from 2011 and will build up an even more precise picture of how light has been bent over the course of the universe's history.

Whether these surveys find the effect or not, Bean hopes that her paper will generate more interest in the idea of using weak lensing to test general relativity. "I'm not putting my flag out there and saying this is a real thing," Bean says. "We need to look at more data sets. This is really just the first stage for trying to test gravity in this way."

Massey agrees: "At the moment we're in the mode of just trying to hack into general relativity to find the chinks in its armour, to find any places where it might not be working." n

Not dark energy, dark fluid

Dark energy could be weirder than we thought. Evidence that over large distances gravity exerts a greater pull on time than on space (see main story) might not necessarily suggest that the theory of general relativity is wrong. It could instead be a sign that the universe's acceleration may require a more exotic explanation.

The simplest way of explaining the universe's acceleration is to invoke a cosmological constant, originally proposed by Einstein to allow the universe to remain the same size in the presence of matter. This describes a universe filled with uniform, outward-pushing energy. But there are other possible explanations for acceleration.

One idea is that the entire universe exists on a membrane, or brane, floating inside an extra dimension. While matter will be confined to three dimensions, gravity could be leaking into this extra dimension. When the universe becomes large enough, this gravity could interact with matter in the brane, to produce acceleration on large scales.

A deviation could also be a sign that dark energy is a more complex "fluid" that exerts varying pressures in different directions. The snag is that telling the difference between a more exotic form of dark energy and a modification to our understanding of gravity could be tricky.

"If we were to detect a departure," says cosmologist Alessandra Silvestri of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we might not be able to tell whether there is a flaw in general relativity or just evidence that dark energy is "some sort of fancy fluid".


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Largest solar panel plant in US rises in Florida
@ Oct 20, 2009
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By CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press Writer Christine Armario, Associated Press Writer – Fri Oct 23, 4:55 pm ET





AP – Acres of open land filled with solar panels is seen in a Wednesday, Oct. 21 2009 photo, at the DeSoto …

ARCADIA, Fla. – Greg Bove steps into his pickup truck and drives down a sandy path to where the future of Florida's renewable energy plans begin: Acres of open land filled with solar panels that will soon power thousands of homes and business.

For nearly a year, construction workers and engineers in this sleepy Florida town of citrus trees and cattle farms have been building the nation's largest solar panel energy plant. Testing will soon be complete, and the facility will begin directly converting sunlight into energy, giving Florida a momentary spot in the solar energy limelight.

The Desoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center will power a small fraction of Florida Power & Light's 4-million plus customer base; nevertheless, at 25 megawatts, it will generate nearly twice as much energy as the second-largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.

The White House said President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the facility Tuesday, when it officially goes online and begins producing power for the electric grid.

As demand grows and more states create mandates requiring a certain percentage of their energy come from renewable sources, the size of the plants is increasing. The southwest Florida facility will soon be eclipsed by larger projects announced in Nevada and California.

"We took a chance at it and it worked out," said Bove, construction manager at the project, set on about 180 acres of land 80 miles southeast of Tampa. "There's a lot of backyard projects, there's a lot of rooftop projects, post offices and stores. Really this is one of the first times where we've taken a technology and upsized it."

Despite its nickname, the Sunshine State hasn't been at the forefront of solar power. Less than 4 percent of Florida's energy has come from renewable sources in recent years. And unlike California and many other states, Florida lawmakers haven't agreed to setting clean energy quotas for electric companies to reach in the years ahead.

California, New Jersey and Colorado have led the country in installing photovoltaic systems; now Florida is set to jump closer to the top with the nation's largest plant yet.

The Desoto facility and two other solar projects Florida Power & Light is spearheading will generate 110 megawatts of power, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3.5 million tons. Combined, that's the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road each year, according to figures cited by the company.

The investment isn't cheap: The Desoto project cost $150 million to build and the power it supplies to some 3,000 homes and businesses will represent just a sliver of the 4 million-plus accounts served by the state's largest electric utility.

But there are some economic benefits: It created 400 jobs for draftsmen, carpenters and others whose work dried up as the southwest Florida housing boom came to a closure and the recession set in. Once running, it will require few full-time employees.

Mike Taylor, director of research and education at the nonprofit Solar Electric Power Association in Washington, said the project puts Florida "on the map."

"It's currently the largest," Taylor said of the Desoto photovoltaic plant. "But it certainly won't be the last."

There are two means of producing electricity from the sun: photovoltaic cells that directly convert sunlight; and thermal power, which uses mirrors to heat fluid and produce steam to run a turbine power generator.

Taylor said a one- or two-megawatt project was considered large not long ago. The size has slowly increased each year.

Overall, the United States still trails other nations in building photovoltaic plants.

Spain and Germany have made larger per capita commitments to solar power because of aggressive government policies, said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. And China has announced plans to pay up to 50 percent of the price of solar power systems of more than 500 megawatts.

"If we don't get our market right and send the right market signals and really support growing this technology, we will be buying solar panels from other countries," Smith said.

In April, Arizona-based manufacturer First Solar Inc. announced plans to build a 48-megawatt plant in Nevada, producing power for about 30,000 homes. Even that pales compared to recently announced plans for a 2 gigawatt facility in China. First Solar has initial approval to build it.


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Five Technologies That Could Change Everything
@ Oct 20, 2009
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OCTOBER 19, 2009

Cover story


(See Corrections & Amplification below.)

It's a tall order: Over the next few decades, the world will need to wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and drastically reduce greenhouse gases. Current technology will take us only so far; major breakthroughs are required.

What might those breakthroughs be? Here's a look at five technologies that, if successful, could radically change the world energy picture.

They present enormous opportunities. The ability to tap power from space, for instance, could jump-start whole new industries. Technology that can trap and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants would rejuvenate older ones.

The Journal Report

See the complete Energy report.

Success isn't assured, of course. The technologies present difficult engineering challenges, and some require big scientific leaps in lab-created materials or genetically modified plants. And innovations have to be delivered at a cost that doesn't make energy much more expensive. If all of that can be done, any one of these technologies could be a game-changer.


For more than three decades, visionaries have imagined tapping solar power where the sun always shines—in space. If we could place giant solar panels in orbit around the Earth, and beam even a fraction of the available energy back to Earth, they could deliver nonstop electricity to any place on the planet.



Source: New Scientist

Sunlight is reflected off giant orbiting mirrors to an array of photovoltaic cells; the light is converted to electricity and then changed into microwaves, which are beamed to earth. Ground-based antennas capture the microwave energy and convert it back to electricity, which is sent to the grid.

The technology may sound like science fiction, but it's simple: Solar panels in orbit about 22,000 miles up beam energy in the form of microwaves to earth, where it's turned into electricity and plugged into the grid. (The low-powered beams are considered safe.) A ground receiving station a mile in diameter could deliver about 1,000 megawatts—enough to power on average about 1,000 U.S. homes.

The cost of sending solar collectors into space is the biggest obstacle, so it's necessary to design a system lightweight enough to require only a few launches. A handful of countries and companies aim to deliver space-based power as early as a decade from now.


Electrifying vehicles could slash petroleum use and help clean the air (if electric power shifts to low-carbon fuels like wind or nuclear). But it's going to take better batteries.



Source: EDSRC

In a lithium-air battery, oxygen flows through a porous carbon cathode and combines with lithium ions from a lithium-metal anode in the presence of an electrolyte, producing an electric charge. The reaction is aided by a catalyst, such as manganese oxide, to improve capacity.

Lithium-ion batteries, common in laptops, are favored for next-generation plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. They're more powerful than other auto batteries, but they're expensive and still don't go far on a charge; the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid coming next year, can run about 40 miles on batteries alone. Ideally, electric cars will get closer to 400 miles on a charge. While improvements are possible, lithium-ion's potential is limited.

One alternative, lithium-air, promises 10 times the performance of lithium-ion batteries and could deliver about the same amount of energy, pound for pound, as gasoline. A lithium-air battery pulls oxygen from the air for its charge, so the device can be smaller and more lightweight. A handful of labs are working on the technology, but scientists think that without a breakthrough they could be a decade away from commercialization.


Everybody's rooting for wind and solar power. How could you not? But wind and solar are use-it-or-lose-it resources. To make any kind of difference, they need better storage.



Source: AEP

Battery packs located close to customers can store electricity from renewable wind or solar sources and supply power when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. Energy is collected in the storage units and can be sent as needed directly to homes or businesses or out to the grid.

Scientists are attacking the problem from a host of angles—all of which are still problematic. One, for instance, uses power produced when the wind is blowing to compress air in underground chambers; the air is fed into gas-fired turbines to make them run more efficiently. One of the obstacles: finding big, usable, underground caverns.

Similarly, giant batteries can absorb wind energy for later use, but some existing technologies are expensive, and others aren't very efficient. While researchers are looking at new materials to improve performance, giant technical leaps aren't likely.

Lithium-ion technology may hold the greatest promise for grid storage, where it doesn't have as many limitations as for autos. As performance improves and prices come down, utilities could distribute small, powerful lithium-ion batteries around the edge of the grid, closer to customers. There, they could store excess power from renewables and help smooth small fluctuations in power, making the grid more efficient and reducing the need for backup fossil-fuel plants. And utilities can piggy-back on research efforts for vehicle batteries.


Keeping coal as an abundant source of power means slashing the amount of carbon dioxide it produces. That could mean new, more efficient power plants. But trapping C02 from existing plants—about two billion tons a year—would be the real game-changer.



Source: Vattenfall

Carbon dioxide is removed from smokestack gases and compressed. It's then pumped deep underground and stored in porous rock formations.

Techniques for modest-scale CO2 capture exist, but applying them to big power plants would reduce the plants' output by a third and double the cost of producing power. So scientists are looking into experimental technologies that could cut emissions by 90% while limiting cost increases.

Nearly all are in the early stages, and it's too early to tell which method will win out. One promising technique burns coal and purified oxygen in the form of a metal oxide, rather than air; this produces an easier-to-capture concentrated stream of CO2 with little loss of plant efficiency. The technology has been demonstrated in small-scale pilots, and will be tried in a one-megawatt test plant next year. But it might not be ready for commercial use until 2020.


One way to wean ourselves from oil is to come up with renewable sources of transportation fuel. That means a new generation of biofuels made from nonfood crops.

Researchers are devising ways to turn lumber and crop wastes, garbage and inedible perennials like switchgrass into competitively priced fuels. But the most promising next-generation biofuel comes from algae.



Source: Saferenviroment

Algae grow by taking in CO2, solar energy and other nutrients. They produce an oil that can be extracted and added into existing refining plants to make diesel, gasoline substitutes and other products.

Algae grow fast, consume carbon dioxide and can generate more than 5,000 gallons a year per acre of biofuel, compared with 350 gallons a year for corn-based ethanol. Algae-based fuel can be added directly into existing refining and distribution systems; in theory, the U.S. could produce enough of it to meet all of the nation's transportation needs.

But it's early. Dozens of companies have begun pilot projects and small-scale production. But producing algae biofuels in quantity means finding reliable sources of inexpensive nutrients and water, managing pathogens that could reduce yield, and developing and cultivating the most productive algae strains.

Corrections & Amplifications

One thousand megawatts are enough to power on average about one million U.S. homes. This article on space-based solar power incorrectly said 1,000 megawatts could power about 1,000 homes.

Mr. Totty is a news editor for The Journal Report in San Francisco. He can be reached at michael.totty@wsj.com.


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Topics-Art, Literature, Politics. Life Style, etc.
Asian Nations Push Ideas for Trade
@ Oct 20, 2009
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OCTOBER 26, 2009

China and Japan Want to Reduce Reliance on Western Demand, Offer Vision for Creating an EU-Style Bloc


CHA-AM, Thailand -- Japan and China laid out competing visions of how to create a European Union-style trade bloc in Asia at a regional summit here Sunday, with China pushing for stronger ties with its trading partners in Southeast Asia while Japan held open the door for the U.S. to play a role in a proposed East Asia regional trade group.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama were careful not to clash too visibly at the two-day meeting in this Thai seaside town. The leaders supported each other's efforts to strengthen economic ties in the region, which is recovering from the global economic slump much faster than Europe and the U.S. Both agreed that an EU-style union was a long-term objective to reduce Asia's dependence on U.S. consumers rather than an immediate goal, with Japanese diplomatic officials saying the final entity could be as many as 20 years away.





Associated Press

Asian leaders work out how to hold hands and cross arms during a group photo at a regional summit in Thailand on Sunday. Pictured from left to right are Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

But the contest to define the future shape of one of the world's most vibrant regions came into clearer focus during the summit.

China, diplomats say, is keen to build on its already strong relationships in Southeast Asia, while Japan is eager to bring additional players to the table, including India, Australia and New Zealand. Japan in recent weeks has called for what it terms an "East Asian Community," which could ultimately have its own currency. Mr. Hatoyama also said on Saturday that the U.S. remains a "cornerstone" of Japan's foreign policy, leaving open the possibility that America could join any prospective group.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, meanwhile, suggested that East Asian nations should focus instead on creating a new forum enabling Asian-Pacific countries -- including the U.S. -- to better respond to economic crises.

While Japan and Australia were laying out their long-term visions for the region, China was consolidating its present strength. Mr. Wen spent much of his time at the conference discussing ways to develop a recently signed free-trade pact between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean. He said Saturday that fund-raising of $1 billion -- the first phase of a promised $10 billion China-Asean investment fund -- was almost complete and that the fund will begin investing in Southeast Asian infrastructure by year's end.



The various proposals for better integrating the region and reducing its traditional dependence on the U.S. have caused some concern in Washington. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said last month that it isn't in Washington's interest to be sidelined as Asian countries cement their economic ties.

P.J. Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, said he doesn't think there's going to be an effort by Asia to sideline the U.S. "We think that there can be greater integration within the Asia-Pacific region but that integration will necessarily also involve the United States," said Mr. Crowley.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, plans to hold the first summit between a U.S. president and Asean in Singapore next month in a bid to strengthen ties with the group, which includes the oil-rich sultanate Brunei, military-run Myanmar, and Indonesia.

Mr. Hatoyama's willingness to let the U.S. join discussions about creating a regional trade bloc were also attributed by some diplomats to his desire to avoid upsetting the U.S. at a time when Tokyo and Washington are reorganizing America's military presence in Japan. Officials at the talks say Mr. Hatoyama didn't spell out exactly what role the U.S. could play in establishing a trade group in the region.

Last year's global economic crisis has convinced Japan's new leader, Mr. Hatoyama, that it needs to build up ties with its Asian neighbors to strengthen the region's economy.

Many of the countries meeting Sunday -- including the 10 Southeast Asian nations, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, India and New Zealand, in total accounting for a third of the world's gross domestic product and half its foreign reserves last year -- agreed.

"The old growth model, where, simply put, we have to rely on consumption in the West for goods and services produced here, we feel will no longer serve us as we move to the future," said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who hosted the event.

The long-term problems in creating a regional trade bloc among such a wide range of countries at very different levels of development were highlighted by disputes among the smaller Asean group. Half the members failed to show up for the start of their summit here on Friday.

Li Liu contributed to this article.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com






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Topics-Health & Life Sciences
Does Exercise Really Keep Us Healthy?
@ Oct 20, 2009
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Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

(Kaoko Obata, a Japanese marathoner, runs at the Boulder Reservoir in Colorado.)

In Brief:

While exercise can boost mood, its health benefits have been oversold.

Moderate exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes in people at risk. Exercise may reduce the risk of heart disease and breast and colon cancers.

Though the evidence is mixed, exercise may also provide benefits for people with osteoporosis.

Physical activity alone will not lead to sustained weight loss or reduce blood pressure or cholesterol.

Exercise has long been touted as the panacea for everything that ails you. For better health, simply walk for 20 or 30 minutes a day, boosters say — and you don’t even have to do it all at once. Count a few minutes here and a few there, and just add them up. Or wear a pedometer and keep track of your steps. However you manage it, you will lose weight, get your blood pressure under control and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

If only it were so simple. While exercise has undeniable benefits, many, if not most, of its powers have been oversold. Sure, it can be fun. It can make you feel energized. And it may lift your mood. But before you turn to a fitness program as the solution to your particular health or weight concern, consider what science has found.

Moderate exercise, such as walking, can reduce the risk of diabetes in obese and sedentary people whose blood sugar is starting to rise. That outcome was shown in a large federal study in which participants were randomly assigned either to an exercise and diet program, to take a diabetes drug or to serve as controls. Despite trying hard, those who dieted and worked out lost very little weight. But they did manage to maintain a regular walking program, and fewer of them went on to develop diabetes.

Exercise also may reduce the risk of heart disease, though the evidence is surprisingly mixed. There seems to be a threshold effect: Most of the heart protection appears to be realized by people who go from being sedentary to being moderately active, usually by walking regularly. More intense exercise has been shown to provide only slightly greater benefits. Yet the data from several large studies have not always been clear, because those who exercise tend to be very different from those who do not.

Active people are much less likely to smoke; they’re thinner and they eat differently than their sedentary peers. They also tend to be more educated, and education is one of the strongest predictors of good health in general and a longer life. As a result, it is impossible to know with confidence whether exercise prevents heart disease or whether people who are less likely to get heart disease are also more likely to be exercising.

Scientists have much the same problem evaluating exercise and cancer. The same sort of studies that were done for heart disease find that people who exercised had lower rates of colon and breast cancer. But whether that result is cause or effect is not well established.

Exercise is often said to stave off osteoporosis. Yet even weight-bearing activities like walking, running or lifting weights has not been shown to have that effect. Still, in rigorous studies in which elderly people were randomly assigned either to exercise or maintain their normal routine, the exercisers were less likely to fall, perhaps because they got stronger or developed better balance. Since falls can lead to fractures in people with osteoporosis, exercise may prevent broken bones — but only indirectly.

And what about weight loss? Lifting weights builds muscles but will not make you burn more calories. The muscle you gain is minuscule compared with the total amount of skeletal muscle in the body. And muscle has a very low metabolic rate when it’s at rest. (You can’t flex your biceps all the time.)

Jack Wilmore, an exercise physiologist at Texas A & M University, calculated that the average amount of muscle that men gained after a serious 12-week weight-lifting program was 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds. That added muscle would increase the metabolic rate by only 24 calories a day.

Exercise alone, in the absence of weight loss, has not been shown to reduce blood pressure. Nor does it make much difference in cholesterol levels. Weight loss can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but if you want to lose weight, you have to diet as well as exercise. Exercise alone has not been shown to bring sustained weight loss.Just ask Steven Blair, an exercise researcher at the University of South Carolina. He runs every day and even runs marathons. But, he adds, “I was short, fat and bald when I started running, and I’m still short, fat and bald. Weight control is difficult for me. I fight the losing battle.”

The difficulty, Dr. Blair says, is that it’s much easier to eat 1,000 calories than to burn off 1,000 calories with exercise. As he relates, “An old football coach used to say, ‘I have all my assistants running five miles a day, but they eat 10 miles a day.’”

Publish date: 1/8/08

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