Friday, March 28, 2008

The Last Neanderthal?

I may be the last Neanderthal ...
No, no, no, I'm not THAT old. And I don't mean it in the sense of being some kind humanoid throw-back, someone unable to cope with modern times, either.
So, why do I think I might be the last Neanderthal?
I am a fair-skinned redhead who wears make-up and loves to chat!
Let's back up a few years ...

One bright spot in my Jr-Sr High School years was when my parents subscribed to the TimeLife Nature Library Series, a set of wonderfully illustrated books containing a wealth of scientific information. A new book would arrive regularly, to be eagerly devoured by the budding young mind. All were inspiring; in particular, "The Primates", "Early Man", "Evolution" and "The Universe" had the profound impact of setting me on a path that still continues ... an interest in all things anthropological.

Moving away from home after high school, I took those four books with me. They are still with me today, 40-yrs later, prominently displayed on my bookshelves. Having changed my ideology forever, they feel like my oldest friends, and they continue to inspire me to keep up with anthropological research.

Now comes this current article, accompanied by one of the original beloved TimeLife illustrations, suggesting that Neanderthals may have worn make-up and talked! For decades, anthropologists have wondered if Neanderthal's verbal abilities extended beyond basic grunts & hoots. A fossilized Neanderthal hyoidal throat bone (the U-shaped bone that supports the tongue muscles and is theoretically necessary for human speech) is still hotly debated. But as the 2-pg linked article suggests, it is possible that the decoration of Neanderthal bodies and faces with artful pigments might be interpreted as suggesting speech.

Another article from October last year suggests Neanderthals were redheads. DNA extracted from two 50K-yr old Neanderthal skulls suggest they sported red hair and fair skin when they lived in Europe.

Neanderthal fossils have been surfacing for about 150-yrs. Enough fossils have emerged to show their lineage branched off from ours about 500K yrs ago, in Africa.

Fossils show they were much stockier than we are, heavily boned & heavily muscled with prominent eyebrow ridges, all features that became even more pronounced as they adapted to the brutal conditions of Ice Age Eurasia. They left Africa for Europe and Asia via the Middle East about 400K yrs ago, while our immediate ancestors stayed in Africa until about 50K yrs ago when the ice age abated enough to allow another migration out.

Besides fossils, Neanderthals left behind sophisticated stone tools (believe me, as I learned in trying to knock out a few for my Sr Zoo term project, they were very skilled -- my pitiful attempts would barely carve store-bought T-Bone steaks), evidence of fire use and animal skin clothing (absolutely necessary for the ice age), and even some indication of caring for weak or injured companions (many severely injured individuals survived for years after their debilitating injuries), as well as spiritual rites surrounding the dead (flowers were discovered in one neanderthal grave site).

They apparently also left behind some DNA with the MC1R gene. In sun-baked Africa, there is huge evolutionary pressure to retain a certain version of this gene that promotes dark skin pigment. In Europe, variations of this gene would have allowed lighter-skinned people to more efficiently produce Vitamin D in the sun-starved Ice Ages. One variant of this gene leads to red hair and pale, freckled skin. It is this variant of the gene that we share with Neanderthals.
Not many animals have red hair/fur. In the primate family, aside from some humans, there are orangutans and a rust-colored lemur. Among mammals, I can think of red foxes and red pandas (both of which have significant white areas), red deer and a few domestic dogs (both of which tend toward the reddish-brown), and possibly some extinct wooly mammoths (evidenced by bits found with a frozen Siberian baby mammoth). There are also some horses and cows with a reddish colored fur. Evolution does seem to use the gene responsible for this ginger coloration sparingly.

Another gene we share with Neanderthals (actually, we probably share about 99.5%), is the FOXP2 gene. A few yrs ago, geneticists discovered that people with a mutation in the FOXP2 gene suffer from a severe language deficit which prevents them from learning to speak. The newly examined Neanderthal DNA shows they share our version of the FOXP2 gene, the one that allows us to learn language. Facility with language is uniquely human.

Neanderthals went extinct roughly 25K yrs ago, after a considerable overlap with our species. "Went Extinct" is such a sanitized phrase. One can imagine the more mentally agile and socially advanced modern humans as they trekked out of Africa and encountered these primitive cousins. I don't think it is too wrong to presuppose a crafted, brutal genocidal conquest of the Neanderthal's territory, although in a mano-a-mano battle, the powerfully-built Neanderthal would've probably kicked the modern human's ass.

Anthropologists consider Neanderthals to have been members of the human family, but have found no evidence that they interbred with our ancestors. They are called an evolutionary dead-end. The fact that this flies in the face of known behavior of all humans who have found themselves in the historical position of conqueror has spurred many scientists to keep searching for vestigal Neanderthal genes that might prove such a link.

By now, you've probably guessed where I'm going. With all the evidence piling up, I am beginning to believe there may be a few Neanderthal genes still floating around in some of today's modern humans. These would be fair-skinned redheads who wear make-up and love to chat! Sadly, since I have no children, it will be up to other redheads to ensure that these traits do not go extinct. Redheads will need to keep producing redheaded talkative children who like to decorate their bodies and/or faces. Do it ... for science!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hillary's Watershed Moment

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be working on taxes. But sometimes you read something that you just have to share.

Carl Bernstein (yes, him) wrote this excellent piece for the Anderson Cooper 360 Blog this morning. It really speaks for itself, so I'm posting the entire thing. I'm sorry if it appears I am piling on Hillary, but as Mr. Bernstein points out, these "misstatements" of hers are a pattern by now. Watching her shrugging this off reminded me of Dick Cheney's "So?" remark to Martha Radditz last week.

Over a lifetime, even little lies and schemes begin to add up. If you are constantly lying (or embellishing the truth, or misrepresenting the facts, or whatever you want to call it), you do tend to forget what is true and what isn't. People who do this are known as pathological liars. We've got a bad one in the White House right now. We sure don't need another!

Read how Bernstein ties it all together:

March 26, 2008
Hillary Clinton: Truth or Consequences
by Carl Bernstein
Posted: 10:14 AM ET

Hillary Clinton has many admirable qualities, but candor and openness and transparency and a commitment to well-established fact have not been notable among them. The indisputable elements of her Bosnian adventure affirm (again) the reluctant conclusion I reached in the final chapter of A Woman In Charge, my biography of her published last June:

Since her Arkansas years [I wrote], Hillary Rodham Clinton has always had a difficult relationship with the truth… [J]udged against the facts, she has often chosen to obfuscate, omit, and avoid. It is an understatement by now that she has been known to apprehend truths about herself and the events of her life that others do not exactly share.

As I noted:
Almost always, something holds her back from telling the whole story, as if she doesn’t trust the reader, listener, friend, interviewer, constituent—or perhaps herself—to understand the true significance of events…”

The Bosnian episode is a watershed event, because it indelibly brings to mind so many examples of this tendency – from the White House years and, worse, from Hillary Clinton’s take-no-prisoners presidential campaign. Her record as a public person is replete with “misstatements” and elisions and retracted and redacted and revoked assertions…

When the facts surrounding such characteristic episodes finally get sorted out — usually long after they have been challenged — the mysteries and contradictions are often dealt with by Hillary Clinton and her apparat in a blizzard of footnotes, addenda, revision, and disingenuous re-explanation: as occurred in regard to the draconian secrecy she imposed on her health-care task force (and its failed efforts in 1993-94); explanations of what could have been dutifully acknowledged, and deserved to be dismissed as a minor conflict of interest — once and for all — in Whitewater; or her recent Michigan-Florida migration from acceptance of the DNC’s refusal to recognize those states’ convention delegations (when it looked like she had the nomination sewn up) to her re-evaluation of the matter as a grave denial of basic human rights, after she fell impossibly behind in the delegate count.

The latest episode — the sniper fire she so vividly remembered and described in chilling detail to buttress her claims of foreign policy “experience” — like the peace she didn’t bring to Northern Ireland, recalls another famous instance of faulty recollection during a crucial period in her odyssey. On January 15, 1995, she had just published her book, It Takes a Village, intended to herald a redemptive “come back” after the ravages of health care; Whitewater; the Travel Office firings she had ordered (but denied ordering); the disastrous staffing of the White House by the First Lady, not the President — all among the egregious errors that had led to the election of the Newt Gingrich Congress in 1994.

On her book tour, she was asked on National Public Radio about the re-emergence of dormant Whitewater questions that week, when the so-called “missing billing records” had been found. Hillary stated with unequivocal certainty that she had consistently made public all the relevant documents related to Whitewater, including “every document we had,” to the editors of the New York Times before the newspaper’s original Whitewater story ran during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Even her closest aides — as in the case of the Bosnian episode 18 years later — could not imagine what possessed her to say such a thing. It was simply not true, as her lawyers and the editors of the Times (like CBS in the latest instance) recognized, leading to huge stories about her latest twisting of the facts. “Oh my God, we didn’t,” said Susan Thomases, Hillary’s great friend, who was left to explain to the White House lawyers exactly how Hillary’s aides had carefully cherry-picked documents accessed for the Times in the presidential campaign. The White House was forced — once again — to acknowledge the first lady had been "mistaken”; her book tour was overwhelmed by the matter, and Times’ columnist Bill Safire that month coined the memorable characterization of Hillary Clinton as “a congenital liar.”

“Hillary values context; she does see the big picture. Hers, in fact, is not the mind of a conventional politician,” I wrote in A Woman In Charge. “But when it comes to herself, she sees with something less than candor and lucidity. She sees, like so many others, what she wants to see.”

My book concluded with this paragraph:
As Hillary has continued to speak from the protective shell of her own making, and packaged herself for the widest possible consumption, she has misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self. Great politicians have always been marked by the consistency of their core beliefs, their strength of character in advocacy, and the self-knowledge that informs bold leadership. Almost always, Hillary has stood for good things. Yet there is a disconnect between her convictions and her words and actions. This is where Hillary disappoints. But the jury remains out. She still has time to prove her case, to effectuate those things that make her special, not fear them or camouflage them. We would all be the better for it, because what lies within may have the potential to change the world, if only a little.”

The jury — armed with definitive evidence like the CBS tape of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian adventure — seems on the verge of returning a negative verdict on her candidacy.

- Carl Bernstein, AC 360° Contributor

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Comes to the Desert Southwest

Spring and Fall are the best times in the high desert southwest. Just 2 weeks ago, I couldn't go outside without a big coat. Yesterday I was able to leave a couple of sun-filled windows open for the first time since last October. Because of the prevailing U.S. jetstream (SW to NE), don't worry if you're in the Northeast -- I'm happy to report Spring is on the way!

Here's a bit of what's going on around my house. I'll spare you the fertilizer and pruning stories. Click on any photo to enlarge.

We have a couple old dogs who hate walking on gravel. It hurts their paws. I found these nice flagstones dumped in a vacant lot & brought them home for a little pathway across the gravel. Since construction debris is filling up the landfill, I felt good about recycling someone's leftovers. And the oldest dog was very appreciative, too. She better be; the large stone she's standing on about broke my back!

Two yrs ago, I planted 50 red tulip bulbs around our house. Last spring all 50 came up. This year, only 10. What happened? They should've divided & multiplied over the winter. I just love the flash of red!

I've heard about bees dying out, but this Creeping Rosemary sure attracts them from wherever they are hiding. I can walk out my front door & twist off a few sprigs for cooking. Fresh cut Rosemary fills the whole house with a lovely aroma. Careful of the bees!

These succulents are called Gopher Plants. I have no idea why. We don't have any gophers in our yard. This utah desert's winters are too harsh for most succulents. Think of them as cactus without spines. All cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus. At the heart of each yellow blooming stem on the Gopher Plant is a little tiny red star. Very pretty!

Hiking in Zion National Park last week, I came upon this spring waterfall. The photo was taken looking straight up a cliff face. Winter snowmelt water seeps through cracks & fissures for miles, following different paths each year. You never know where exactly they will pop up. Chancing upon this one was a delight. The waterfall will disappear soon, but the memory will stay in the rocks to weep out all summer, giving the navajo sandstone a dark patina.

You will definitely have to click on this one to enlarge. The Zion canyons have many sheer faces with fissures to tempt rock climbers. Peton climbing has been outlawed for some time, but free climbing can be done during the off-season/low tourist times. The canyon walls are so tall, climbers are easy to miss. This guy was just getting started. Unfortunately, our hike took us another direction & by the time we returned, he was out of sight.

OK, hope you enjoyed this little Spring Break!

I will be scarce for a couple weeks, spending time in my tax dungeon.

ps, I just noticed: there are *only* 300-days left on the Bush Countdown Clock!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


You were expecting bunnies or chickens or little lambs, maybe?

Friday, March 21, 2008


What's so good about "Good Friday"? Isn't this the day Jesus was crucified? Am I the only one to find this an oddly macabre holiday?

I've got nothing against most of the teachings of Jesus. I rather like his can't-we-all-just-get-along attitude, his efforts to enlighten mankind about the possibilities of socialism (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), his outright condemnation of the inherent inequity of wealth (it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven), and his questioning of the religious doctrine of his day (driving out money changers from the temple; chastising professional public prayers in favor of private expression of faith; etc) ..... it's the phony science nutzos professing to speak in his name that drive me to despair.

Intelligent design? ... you tell me ...

See, when I think about The Creation Museum being devoted to polluting young minds with compelling fun-filled exhibits featuring dinosaurs sharing the primeval forest with Adam and Eve, or baby T-Rex's cavorting with Cain and Abel, I have to wonder why they are trying so hard to substitute horseshit for scientific facts. Who benefits from an ignorant populace? I guess it's the same powers who, if they have any use for people at all, it's as an unquestioning mass of taxpayers who will blindly support whatever agenda is foisted on them. That most (not all) of these powers reside in the GOP, and most (not all) of the sheeple vote republican (thus encouraging science mockery), makes me despair of humanity's ability to think, to reason, to discover and test, to exercise that piece of real estate located between their ears.

However, that little baby T-Rex looks kinda cute. Perhaps with enough love, he will one day grow up to bite off the head of the visionary who is the driving force behind this dinosaur-human love fest. As he's crunching skull bones in his massive jaws, perhaps the T-Rex will contemplate the words of Ken Ham (said visionary who, along with 40% of Americans, believes that the universe, earth, dinosaurs & man were instantly created sometime in the last 10,000 years) about the purpose of this museum ... "If you can't believe in Genesis, then why believe any other part of the bible? You can't pick and choose, you can't say this part is right and this part is wrong".

Indeed, Mr. Ham, for once we agree! That is why I will be not be spending Good Friday in your museum of lies. Instead, I will be reading quotes of Richard Dawkins. And by the way, your name is misleading, you taste like chicken (to a T-Rex, that is; to me you taste like SHAM).

Have a Good Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How did we get here?

Today marks five years since we embarked on the neocon wetdream of war in Iraq. There were many steps in the build up to this war. We all watched them happen. At first it was a trickle which became a rushing river which became an avalanche of deception. Many of us kept thinking cooler heads would prevail, the UN would help us engage in a meaningful resolution, other countries would talk sense into our headstrong leaders, or our leaders would realize that the millions of protestors taking to streets all over the world might have a point. We did not realize we were being herded on a path to war.

I remember holding my head in my hands, watching shock and awe descend upon Baghdad, and thinking no-no-no-nooooooo, folly, all folly! Sometimes, with all that's happened since that day, and the way it has been constantly revised and recolored, it's a struggle to remember the exact segments of bullshit that led us here. But fortunately, we don't have to rely on our own memories. That's because there is a film that documents this path, using only archival news footage, without commentary or opinions. It leaves you as the viewer in control of your own responses.

Here is a brief synopsis from the website, Leading to War:

"How does a government lead its people to war? How does it communicate to its citizens – and to the wider world – the reasons and rationale for initiating military conflict? What rhetorical devices and techniques are employed? And how is a nation brought to support the profound decision to wage war against another nation? These are the questions that LEADING TO WAR seeks to explore.

"This 72-minute film shows the evolution of the United States government’s case for military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime, leading to the Iraq War which began in 2003. LEADING TO WAR is comprised entirely of archival news footage – without commentary, without voiceover – presented chronologically from President Bush’s State of the Union address in January, 2002 (the “axis of evil” speech), and continuing up to the announcement of formal U.S. military action in Iraq on March 19, 2003.

"Covering these 14 months, the film presents selected interviews, speeches, and press conferences given by President Bush and his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others.

"This compressed, chronological view offers a unique opportunity to examine the media record from a historical perspective, allowing the material to speak for itself. Footage was licensed from major news sources, including ABC, AP, BBC, CNN, ITN, and NBC. LEADING TO WAR is also intended as a historical record for future generations, who will not have had firsthand experience of the precise, incremental steps taken by the government in presenting its case for war."


If you are interested in seeing this documentary, you can purchase a DVD on the official website linked above. Or you can watch it for free online, if you don't mind sitting at your computer for 72-minutes. Just click here and follow the red arrow to start the film in english. After the film begins, you can expand it to full screen with the little compass icon in the right corner. I watched it with growing unease.

For me, it's not just a matter of reliving the outrage while watching documentation of the lies, it is also a matter of witnessing the methods a government can and will use to sell its agenda to its citizens. I live in hope that perhaps documented film evidence like this of how we got here will help ensure that this type of unnecessary war will never happen again.

Unfortunately, examining how we got here does not automatically lead to understanding exactly how we will get out. There are no good options, no easy ways out of this mess. To me, this is one of the best signs of a deliberate act, an action that once embarked upon, effectively narrows the choices left to successors. We have a sliver of path left open to us now. It won't be easy. It will involve much pain, for both us and the Iraqis. It is NOT a path open to the GoP.

While we as individuals may not have had much choice in our country's headlong rush into this morass, we sure as hell don't have to be a part of allowing McWarDog to get a chance to brush it all under the rug. We must insist our new president and congress investigate the various crimes of the Bush administration. We must expose the corruption of those unbid contracts of Halliburton and KBR and Blackwater. We must examine & assign blame for this disasterous war where it belongs, or we will leave behind us a legacy of criminal villains and thieving murderers that makes a mockery of every principle our country was founded upon.


Here's some additional links to lies from Leading to War:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday Night - The Blue Nile

Funny ... the pathways the brain takes ... on the post below, Newsguy mentioned Edward Hopper, which reminded me of The Blue Nile, "Saturday Night", an ethereal, gentle, uninsistent yet insinuating track from their album, "Hats" (6.5 minutes):

The Blue Nile is a trio from Glasgow, Scotland. Even though they've only produced a small volume of music since their inception in the 1980's, every album is a masterpiece. They go years, even decades, between albums, weaving a sound mosaic that is part science fictionesque and part tragic fantasy. I first found them in the early 1990's on their 2nd album, "Hats", of which all I can say is when you're in the right mood, every song on that album, from first note to last, will resonate in your soul. Singer/songwriter Paul Buchanan has a way of getting under your skin with his haunting tunes. Click here for a disarmingly frank 2006 interview of Paul Buchanan on Irish TV. I love both Irish and Scots accents. And that touch of grey.

Such integrity and purpose is rare, and should be cherished. The Blue Nile's songs tell stories that delight in the trivia of modern existence. Says Mr. Buchanan: "You know, I think that’s part of our job really – to express what’s going on in that little gap in between what people dream and what they get. To find good ways of looking at that and to find what is positive about it and to make unimpeachable records as far as possible on behalf of the stupid and the crazy or on behalf of the part of us that is dispossessed by a non-spiritual retail-orientated society".

If you find yourself in Scotland this July ...

The BLUE NILE next concerts :
--- The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
on 09th, 10th and 11th July 2008.
--- Galway Radisson Hotel
on 15th July 2008.

Or if you find yourself stuck here in July, may I suggest throwing "Hats" on the stereo.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If you could own one piece of art ...

If you could own one piece of original art, what would it be? I've always been partial to Johannes Vermeer's "The Geographer", with its quiet intensity (click for maximum effect):

"The Geographer" and "The Astronomer" are the only two paintings of solitary men by Vermeer. Painted in 1668 and 1669, Vermeer obviously intended the two men to be scholarly types. Although the astronomer has no telescope (which probably explains why this painting was originally called "The Astrologer"), he is shown touching a celestial globe. The painting of the geographer was originally called "A Mathematical Artist". He is holding a pair of compasses and has a terrestrial globe nearby. The light flows in from left to right. He appears to be caught looking up in abstract thought.

The model for both paintings is widely presumed to be Antony van Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek was a draper who became an official civil surveyor in 1669 and gained a reputation for skills in navigation, astronomy and mathematics. Best known for improving the microscope, he is commonly referred to as The Father of Microbiology.

For many years sold as a pair, the paintings are now separated. I find this quite sad. I think they should be re-united.

"The Geographer" is currently on display at The Stadel in Frankfurt, Germany.

"The Astronomer" is housed in The Louvre in Paris.

For more info on the possible connection between painter and scientist, see Leeuwenhoek and Vermeer. For an interesting interactive analysis using your mouse to highlight various objects in "The Geographer", click here. For "The Astronomer", click here.

Click here for Vermeer's biography. If his name sounds familiar, but you can't quite place it, you've probably seen the movie, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" with Scarlett Johansson.

So, if you could own one piece of original art, what would it be?
Here are some interesting paintings to consider ... more than 500 years of "Women in Western Art" (in 3-minutes):

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


The very important Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island primaries are happening today. Weather will be a factor in Ohio and Vermont as an extreme ICE STORM is moving there now. All those who did not "early vote" will be fighting freezing frozen ice as well as power outages at the polls. They should know that our hearts are with them as they exercise their sacred constitutional voting rights.

Texas will be performing a messy double-dip voting scheme, but I have confidence the Lone Star State can handle it. After all, they've lived with Governors like Bush and Perry and Representatives like DeLay and Cornyn and are still around to tell the tale. But their primary voting rules are complicated enough that meaningful results may not be available for awhile, so settle in, pop a brew (caffeine-free coke for me), and have some fun watching Blitzer trying to explain it all.

Rhode Island looks like it will provide the earliest & most accurate results of the night.

If you place any faith in polls, Zogby published this one March 3. It gives narrow leads to Obama in both Texas and Ohio. It is the only major poll giving Obama any kind of lead in Ohio.

In addition to TV coverage beginning about 7PM EST, there are many online sites following the election results. Here's just a few, remember to keep hitting "refresh" for current results:
MSNBC Decision '08

And finally, here's the latest list of unpledged super delegates. You should recognize those from your own state & probably know how to get in touch with them. They hold the key to any prospetive democratic nominee & the sooner they commit, the faster we can begin concentrating on the general election. I have urged mine to follow the primary vote in my state since it expresses the will of the people. To do otherwise is a subversion of democracy, in my opinon. Of the states voting today, OH has 18 unpledged superdelegates, RI has 10, TX has 32, and VT has 7.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Desolation Row

Random economic thoughts and quotes, in no particular order ...

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Austrian Economist: "The essence of so-called war prosperity is it enriches some by what it takes from others. It is not rising wealth, but a shifting of wealth and income."

Vice-President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force Report issued May 2001: "... Middle East oil producers will remain central to world security. The Persian Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy."

Herr von Mises also said, "The worst evils which mankind has ever had to endure were inflicted by bad governments."

Economist Paul Craig Roberts: "America is a ship of fools in denial of their plight ... offshoring kills American economic prospects ... while war imposes enormous costs on a bankrupt country ... neconservatives call for more war, and congress appropriates war funds which can only be obtained by borrowing abroad."

Alan Greenspan during a recent investment conference in Saudi Arabia: "As of right now, US economic growth is at zero. We are at stall speed." Greenspan also said that oil prices would continue to grow, even as a new all-time record of $101/barrel was reached last week. Greenspan indicated that the US mortgage market will continue to worsen. [note: I cannot quote Greenspan very much since his words in an exact quote are one of the prime causes of narcolepsy] ...

Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch share similar view points. Experts in both firms say that the US economy will continue to decline in 2008 due to the reduction of real estate prices, fluctuating financial markets, high oil prices and reduced bank lending. This is a painful reality for Americans who are already experiencing higher unemployment, more expensive fuel costs, poor credit and unwieldy debt-to-income ratios.

Presidential election years are not usually recessionary, but this year is an exception. Why? Well, the artifical short term stimulus that the Bush-Cheney administration gave the economy just before the 2004 and 2006 elections, through a combination of large tax cuts and large increases in military contracts, has pretty much run its course. It's obvious they believe they will lose control in this election and intend to leave as big a mess as possible for the incoming opposition party to clean up. How convenient!

In addition, we are feeling the pinch of years of monetary inflation on the part of the Federal Reserve resulting in a continuing decline in the value of the US Dollar in international monetary markets. The Fed's single solution for every problem, i.e. reducing interest rates, cannot be utilized much longer without generating an international fear of a collapse of the US Dollar. Financing our wars with foreign loans was an attempt to insulate American citizens from feeling too much war deprivation, thus banishing thoughts of impeachment, but a collapsing US Dollar will bring the loan shark henchmen home to roost. If China won't accept devalued US Dollars for loan repayments, they may start demanding a pound of flesh. How about signing over the deed to the Crawford Ranch?

Add to all this a construction industry in disarray, the sub-prime mortgage fiasco resulting in foreclosures and loss of consumer confidence, and we are looking at an almost perfect storm of economic factors indicating a painful recession, maybe even a full-blown depression. All we'd need now to transform an economic slowdown into a global meltdown is for the Bush-Cheney neocon wetdream of bombing Iran to be implemented. Just think, with peak oil production pushing energy prices ever higher, we could turn the world's richest oil producing region in to a hot war zone for the foreseeable future! The slurping sound you hear and the foul bits of moisture hitting your face is Halliburton and Blackwater, et al, slavering at that enticing prospect.

The preceding commentary was inspired after listening closely to "Desolation Row" (which itself seems partially inspired by T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" -- scroll down for more on that -- as well as Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck). Set here to scenes from the movie, "Days of Heaven" (a beautifully filmed, but ultimately lousy film), the juxtaposition of such a bleak song with gorgeous scenery sums up my view of ostrich-headed americans ... 10-minutes:

Bob Dylan's lyrics:
They're selling postcards of the hanging. They're painting the passports brown. The beauty parlor is filled with sailors. The circus is in town. Here comes the blind commissioner. They've got him in a trance. One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants. And the riot squad, they're restless.They need somewhere to go as Lady and I look out tonight from Desolation Row.

Cinderella, she seems so easy. "It takes one to know one," she smiles, and puts her hands in her back pockets, Bette Davis style. And in comes Romeo, he's moaning, "You Belong to Me, I Believe". And someone says," You're in the wrong place, my friend, you'd better leave". And the only sound that's left after the ambulances go is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row.

Now the moon is almost hidden. The stars are beginning to hide. The fortunetelling lady has even taken all her things inside. All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback of Notre Dame, everybody is making love or else expecting rain. And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing. He's getting ready for the show. He's going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row.

Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window. For her I feel so afraid. On her twenty-second birthday, she already is an old maid. To her, death is quite romantic. She wears an iron vest. Her profession's her religion. Her sin is her lifelessness. And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah's great rainbow, she spends her time peeking into Desolation Row.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk, passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk. Now he looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette. Then he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet. You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago for playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world inside of a leather cup. But all his sexless patients, they are trying to blow it up. Now his nurse, some local loser, she's in charge of the cyanide hole. And she also keeps the cards that read, "Have Mercy on His Soul". They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow, if you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row.

Across the street they've nailed the curtains. They're getting ready for the feast. The Phantom of the Opera is a perfect image of a priest. They're spoonfeeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured. Then they'll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning him with words. And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls,"Get outta here if you don't know Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row".

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do. Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine is strapped across their shoulders. And then the kerosene is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row.

Praise be to Nero's Neptune. The Titanic sails at dawn. Everybody's shouting, "Which Side Are You On?" And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, fighting in the captain's tower, while calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow. And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row.

Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the door knob broke. When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke? All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they're quite lame. I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name. Right now I can't read too good, don't send me no more letters, no ... not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.

Click on the Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot link in the lyrics & tell me young Ezra isn't a dead ringer for younger Bob Dylan. Read more:
poem link to T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land (dedicated to Ezra)
and useful interpretation of The Waste Land's rich imagery.
A memorable image: "There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust."


A few economic articles/sources/further reading mined for this post:
Wall St. Banks Confront a String of Write-Downs NYTimes 2.19.2008
Banks “quietly” borrow $50 billion from Fed: report Reuters 2.19.2008
Bernanke Warns of Worsening Economy AP Economics Writer 2.14.08
Soros predicts worst recession for 50 years The First Post 1.23.08
Odds are, U.S. is in a recession Marketwatch 1.18.08
Recession in the US ‘has arrived’ BBC 1.08.2008
The World’s Largest Banks Are Now Trapped Lew
Crisis May Make 1929 Look Like a ‘Walk in the Park’
The Great Depression-2008