11/21/2014

T. G. I. F. Solitude











S O L I T U D E


1. Bypassing Burnout
Too often, our culture assigns self-worth with productivity. Whether it's asking what your country can do for you, or what you can do for your country, the question remains -- what can be done? It's a one-way ticket to burnout.

2. Heightened Sensitivity 
For many, attempting ten days of silence would be akin to walking on water. Vipassana silent retreats are exactly that; participants are instructed to refrain from reading, writing, or eye contact.

3. Dissolving Tomorrow's Troubles 
Silence brings our awareness back to the present -- where concrete happiness is experienced. Watts makes the distinction between our basic and ingenious consciousness; the latter makes predictions based on our memories, which seem so real to the mind that we're caught in a hypothetical abstraction. It plans out our lives with an abstract happiness, but an abstract happiness is a very real disappointment.

4. Improves Memory
Combining solitude with a walk in nature causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory.

5. Strengthens Intention and Action
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal says during silence, the mind is best able to cultivate a form of mindful intention that later motivates us to take action.
Intentional silence puts us in a state of mental reflection and disengages our intellectual mind. At that point McGonigal says to ask yourself three questions:
  • "If anything were possible, what would I welcome or create in my life?"
  • "When I'm feeling most courageous and inspired, what do I want to offer the world?"
  • "When I'm honest about how I suffer, what do I want to make peace with?"

6. Increases Self-Awareness
In silence, we make room for the self-awareness to be in control of our actions, rather than under their control. The break from external voices puts us in tune to our inner voices -- and it's those inner voices that drive our actions. Awareness leads to control.  
Practice becoming an observer of your thoughts. The human will is strengthened whenever we choose not to respond to every actionable thought.

7. Grow Your Brain
The brain is the most complex and powerful organ, and like muscles, benefits from rest. UCLA research showed that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the the "folding" of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information.

8. "A-Ha" Moments
The creative process includes a crucial stage called incubation, where all the ideas we've been exposed to get to meet, mingle, marinate -- then produce a eureka or "A-ha" moment. The secret to incubation? Nothing. Literally; disengage from the work at hand, and take a rest. It's also the elixir for mental blocks.

9. Mastering Discomfort
Just when you've found a quiet place to sit alone and reflect, an itch will beckon to be scratched. But many meditation teachers will encourage you to refrain, and breath into the experience until it passes. Along with bringing your mind back from distracting thoughts and to your breathing, these practices during silence and solitude work to build greater self-discipline.


10. Emotional Cleansing
Our fight/flight mechanism causes us to flee not only from physical difficulties, but also emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions however, only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia.

11/20/2014

Rising Intelligence


Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and Scottish health board NHS Grampian studied 751 people born in Aberdeen, divided into two groups -- one born in 1921 and the other in 1936 -- known as the Aberdeen Birth Cohort. They were all tested at age 11 and then again up to five times between 1998 and 2011.

When the two groups were tested at age 11, the researchers found an IQ disparity of 3.7 points between the two generations, but after age 62, the difference jumped to 16.5 points -- more than three times what was anticipated. Study leader Dr. Robert Staff described the intelligence gains of the 1936 group as "surprisingly large," and says that he expects average intelligence gains to rise further.

"One especially interesting aspect of the study is that the IQ difference between the cohorts grew by a very large amount over the course of 50 years," educational psychologist and intelligence researcher Jonathan Plucker said in an email to The Huffington Post. "This provides further evidence that one’s intelligence –- at least the aspects that can be examined using tests –- is not fixed at an early age and can be quite malleable over the course of our lifespans."

The study, published in the journal Intelligence, isn't the first to suggest that global IQ is on the rise. In a phenomenon known as the "Flynn effect" (named after psychologist and human intelligence researcher James R. Flynn), IQ has been shown to raise by 3-4 points each decade.

"These IQ gains are probably not unique to Aberdeen, with similar environmental changes being experienced across the UK," Staff said in a statement.

"The results fit with numerous other studies documenting the Flynn Effect," said Plucker. "The Aberdeen results suggest that causes of the Effect, as Flynn originally surmised, are largely environmental in nature: As our living standards -– involving nutrition, education, safety, and many other factors -– steadily improved over the past 100 years, our ability to solve cognitive problems likewise increased."

Another working theory has less to do with the subjects than the test itself. According to intelligence researcher Michael Woodley, who was not involved in the study, they might reflect improvement of specialized and easily trainable cognitive abilities. Woodley points to some measures which suggest a slight decline in general intelligence scores each decade.


"Whilst people are undoubtedly becoming more test-wise and are picking up specialized cognitive skills, as evidenced by studies such as the one conducted by Dr. Staff and colleagues," Woodley said in an email to The Huffington Post, "they are unfortunately not becoming more innovative, or better complex problem solvers."

Just Another Day


China Faces Long Criminal Case



China says an investigation into the most senior communist official ever ensnared in a corruption scandal is still going on - and may take a long time to complete.

The Chinese legal system is a socialist system of law based primarily on the Civil Law model. 

But the government has promised to make public the case against the former leader Zhou Yongkang (above).

Before he retired two years ago, Mr Zhou was the head of China's vast internal security apparatus.

He is being investigated as part of a wider campaign against corruption.

The rare comments on the case against Mr Zhou were given by one of China's vice-ministers of justice, Zhang Sujun, at a press conference.

In an article carried by China's state-run Xinhua news agency, Mr Zhang is reported to have acknowledged the intense interest in the case.

Mr Zhou was previously a member of the Chinese Communist Party's politburo standing committee, the country's most important decision-making body.

Mr Zhang said investigators from the party's own internal discipline department needed time to complete the "in-depth" investigation.

"I believe that [the] related department will definitely publicize the case in an appropriate measure and [through] an appropriate channel after the investigation comes to a close," he said, according to Xinhua.

The vice-minister said the investigation was being carried out using proper procedures.

But China's legal system can at times work at great speed; some suspects are tried, convicted and sentenced in just a day.

Correspondents say the length of this case - Mr Zhou has not been seen in public in more than a year - suggests the authorities know they have to tread carefully with an investigation into such a powerful former leader.


The case against Zhou Yongkang is part of President Xi Jinping's two-year campaign to weed out corruption among party and government officials. President Xi believes corruption undermines the communist party's support.

11/19/2014

Hump Day Art

Bicycle Art 
by 
Thomas Yang













Photography 
by 
Joni Niemela






Watercolors 
by 
Andrin Yeroshewych



Misspent Euros


European Union auditors say the EU misspent about €7bn (£5.5bn) last year - that is, 4.7% of its annual budget.

The European Union (EU) is a politico-economic union of 28 member states that are primarily located in Europe

The EU operates through a system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmental negotiated decisions by the member states.


The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens.

The €7bn is described as "errors" in budget allocations, only part of which could be called fraud or waste.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) said the EU budget should be focused on achieving results rather than on "just getting funds spent".

The report comes amid a row about EU budget surcharges, strongly disputed by the UK, Italy and the Netherlands.

The two most error-prone spending areas in 2013 were regional policy, including energy and transport (6.9% error rate) and rural development, including environment, fisheries and health (6.7%), the auditors said.

The figure is a marginal improvement on 2012, when 4.8% of the budget was misspent.

The ECA president, Vitor Caldeira, said the EU must find more incentives to deliver value for money and improve long-term forecasts, to curb budget waste.

"Just following the usual procedure will no longer be enough," he said.

The European Commission says that in 2013 it managed to correct or recover €3.4bn of misspent EU funds - almost half the total.

The Eurosceptic group that includes the British Conservatives in the European Parliament urged the European Commission to "get a grip" on the budget.

Ryszard Czarnecki, budget control spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), said "European governments are largely to blame for these failures, but the Commission is responsible for the budget and needs to get a grip.


"[Commission] President Juncker has said he wants the Commission to be more political. 

He must realize that whatever excuses the Commission makes for this annual failure, people are frustrated that the auditors have not been able to give the accounts a clean bill of health for 20 years."

Cold War Returns


Western countries are at the gates of a new cold war with Russia, sparked by the Ukraine crisis and a continuing failure to grasp the depth and seriousness of Vladimir Putin’s grievances with the US and EU, the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö (above), has warned.

Speaking to the Guardian at his official residence before Thursday’s conference in Helsinki attended by the UK prime minister, David Cameron, and Nordic and Baltic state leaders, Niinistö said Finland had a long tradition of trying to maintain friendly relations with Russia. But it would not be pushed around.

“The Finnish way of dealing with Russia, whatever the situation, is that we will be very decisive to show what we don’t like, where the red line is. And that is what we are prepared to do,” Niinistö said, referring to recent violations of Finnish airspace by Russian military aircraft.

“We put the Hornets [US-made Finnish air force F-18 fighter aircraft] up there and the Hornets were flying alongside the Russian planes … The Russians turned back

If they had not, what would we have done? I would not speculate.”

Cameron will join eight Nordic and Baltic leaders at the one-day Northern Future Forum hosted by Alexander Stubb, Finland’s prime minister. 

Sources said they will discuss a response to Moscow’s official recognition of “illegitimate” weekend elections at the weekend that were won by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, at a private dinner at Stubb’s residence at Kesäranta.

Cameron will be told Britain is seen as an essential player in formulating Europe’s policy towards Russia and that the Ukraine crisis shows how the EU is much stronger when its members work together.


Finland, formerly a grand duchy of the Russian empire, declared independence in 1917 after the Russian revolution. It survived two separate conflicts with the Soviet Union during the second world war. 

During the cold war, Finland followed a policy of “active neutrality” to keep Moscow at bay. The two countries share an 830-mile (1,300km) land border.

11/18/2014

Low Attendance Equals Layoffs


Hollywood studio Warner Bros will cut around 1,000 jobs – more than ​an eighth of its total worldwide workforce – as it seeks to balance the books following a difficult year.

CEO Kevin Tsujihara aims to cut $200m  from the studio’s annual budget according to the Hollywood Reporter

Last month, he told investors the aim was a “leaner” organization which spends less on marketing.

The cuts are mostly in the studio’s home entertainment real estate, information and technology and finance departments, as opposed to its film or television units. 

However, analysts point out that Warner has suffered ​a ​disappointing summer at the box office compared to its usual rampaging results. Its top film, Godzilla, only just broke the $500m mark worldwide and is the ninth highest-grossing film of 2014, while ​Warner’s next biggest film, The Lego Movie, pulled in $468m.

Rival studios Twentieth Century Fox and Disney are both ahead in terms of ​domestic box-office share, while Paramount has the year’s top​ film: Michael Bay’s $1bn-grossing Transformers: Age of Extinction. 

However, Warner Bros has the final Hobbit movie, The Battle of Five Armies, hitting cinemas in December, a film which would be expected to add close to $1bn to its total.

Christopher Nolan space drama Interstellar is also expected to score at the box office this weekend, with analysts expecting a US opening in excess of $50m. Nolan’s most recent non-comic book venture, Inception, took $825m globally in 2010.

Last year, Warner was the top-grossing studio with $1.8bn. In July, parent company Time Warner fought off an $80bn takeover bid from Rupert Murdoch-owned rival 21st Century Fox.

Notation:  People must understand that business is not in the business of providing jobs as many people think; it is in the business of making money for its shareholders.  When business is down, people get laid off so that the shareholders can still be paid what they expect to be paid for their investments.


So, in order to prevent these people from being laid off in the future if and when they are hired back, we must attend movies that this company makes whether we are interested in them or not.  That is, if we care about those people who lost their jobs.

Just a hair....


Minimum Wage Increase


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he will increase the minimum wage by 15% starting in December.

The raise, the third this year, comes amid an annual inflation rate of 63.4%.

Maduro said the measure and other benefits meant workers would be better off despite the inflation, which he blamed on an "economic war" the opposition were waging against him.

The new wage will be 4,889 bolivars per month ($776; £485 at official exchange rates, $49 in the black market).

Under Venezuela's strict currency controls, people and businesses can receive US dollars at the official rate only by applying to a government currency agency, and then only for specific purposes such as importing goods or paying for foreign travel.

The amount of dollars available at the official rate is restricted, but the demand remains high. This has caused the black market to flourish.

To applause from party members and workers gathered at an official event, President Maduro said he had "decided to accept the proposal from the workers to decree a 15% rise in the minimum salary from 1 December".

Last week, the president announced that he would raise the salaries of the members of the Venezuelan armed forces by 45%, a move which was heavily criticized by the opposition.

Maduro said the increase was "just" and "well deserved".

"The armed forces are made up of workers who guarantee peace, stability and protection for our country," he said.

"All year round, at all hours they are guarding our borders, and that's why I get indignant when they are attacked by the oligarchy," he added.

Maduro says Venezuela's economic problems are created by a greedy elite which lives off the profits of smuggling and selling goods at inflated prices.


The opposition accused the socialist government of Maduro and that of his predecessor in office, Hugo Chavez, of mismanaging the economy for the past 15 years they have been in office.

11/17/2014

Criminal Investigation


NEW YORK (AP) — The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation into JPMorgan Chase's foreign exchange business.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is an American multinational banking and financial services holding company. It is the largest bank in the United States, with total assets of US$2.515 trillion. 

It is a major provider of financial services, and according to Forbes magazine is the world's third largest public company based on a composite ranking. 

The hedge fund unit of JPMorgan Chase is the second largest hedge fund in the United States.[The company was formed in 2000, when Chase Manhattan Corporation merged with J.P. Morgan & Co.

A non-bank foreign exchange company also known as foreign exchange broker or simply "forex" broker is a company that offers currency exchange and international payments to private individuals and companies. 

The term is typically used for currency exchange companies that offer physical delivery rather than speculative trading. i.e., there is a physical delivery of currency to a bank account.

Foreign exchange companies are normally distinct from money transfer companies as they typically perform high-value transfers unlike their money transfer counterparts that focus on high-volume low-value transfers generally by economic migrants back to their home country or to provide cash for travelers. 

The announcement by the nation's largest bank follows a similar disclosure Thursday by Citigroup. Banks in the U.S. and abroad are facing allegations that they manipulated foreign-exchange rates. 

Besides the Justice Department, JPMorgan says civil enforcement authorities and foreign regulators are also investigating its foreign exchange business.

The New York bank said late Monday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had boosted the amount of money set aside for legal expenses. It now has $5.9 billion in reserve, up from the $4.6 billion it reported in August.


JPMorgan Chase & Co. has paid billions in penalties since the financial crises related to mortgages and huge investor losses.

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