Wall Street banks continue to self-destruct

Wall Street is in turmoil as Merrill Lynch found shelter in a $44bn takeover by Bank of America and Lehman Brothers headed towards filing for bankruptcy.

BofA’s bold bid for Merrill came as the world’s top banks appeared close to abandoning efforts to save Lehman and set out to build a firewall against further financial chaos with a $50bn liquidity pool to support other vulnerable institutions.

Update: Lehman Bros. has filed for bankruptcy.

The Federal Reserve said it was making it easier for financial institutions to access Fed liquidity by easing terms on its borrowing facilities and accepting a much wider range of assets as collateral. The Fed meets to decide on interest rates on Tuesday. The moves capped a weekend of high drama that could lead to one of the most radical reshapings in Wall Street’s history.
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How much Girl Talk is too much?

Most teenage girls love to talk to their friends. And talk. And talk…

Female friendship, in all its lovely layers and potentially dark complexities, is inexhaustible grist for film, television and literature — from “Heathers” and “Mean Girls” to “Thelma and Louise,” “Sex and the City,” “Gossip Girl” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

But recently female friendship and girl talk, particularly among adolescents, has drawn growing interest from psychologists and researchers examining the question of how much talking is too much talking. Some studies have found that excessive talking about problems can contribute to emotional difficulties, including anxiety and depression.

The term researchers use is “co-rumination” to describe frequently or obsessively discussing the same problem. The behavior is typical among teens — Why didn’t he call? Should I break up with him? And, psychologists say, it has intensified significantly with e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and Facebook. And in certain cases it can spin into a potentially contagious and unhealthy emotional angst, experts say.

The research distinguishes between sharing or “self-disclosure,” which is associated with positive friendships and positive feelings, and dwelling on problems, concerns and frustrations. Dwelling and rehashing issues can keep girls, who are more prone to depression and anxiety than boys, stuck in negative thinking patterns, psychologists say. But they also say it is a mixed picture: friends who co-ruminate tend to be close, and those intimate relationships can build self-esteem.

Poisonally – to paraphrase Groucho Marx – I think a neurotic society produces an excess of neurotics.

But, RTFA. Some interesting investigation going on in there.

Argentina leads the way in converting cars to natural gas

Murray, Utah – paying equivalent of 63.8¢ per gallon

More vehicles run on natural gas in Argentina than anywhere else in the world, and that success is attracting a burst of interest from the US, where a big push is under way to convert buses, taxis and cars to natural gas.

Representatives of American companies are flocking to Argentina to buy natural-gas compressors, conversion kits and fuel tanks to sell in the US, said Alessandro Carlo. Others from the US are heading south to gain technical know-how. “We have someone visiting from the US every week,” Carlo said. “We’re the pioneers.”

Many drivers in the US are clamoring to fill up with natural gas because it’s about $1.50 cheaper a gallon on average than gasoline, according to industry figures.

Others favour natural gas because it produces about 20 percent less greenhouse emissions. And some see natural gas as a way to reduce US dependency on imported oil…
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Sebastian Vettel is youngest winner in Formula One history

Sebastian Vettel became the youngest Formula One winner with an impeccable start to finish victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The German, aged 21 years and 74 days, and driving in only his 22nd grand prix for Toro Rosso, made the most of his first pole with a maiden race win, in testing conditions.

The previous youngest winner was Fernando Alonso, who was almost a year older when he won the Hungarian GP in 2003.

McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen was 12.5 second adrift in second place with BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica third.

“For sure the best day of my life,” Vettel said. “These pictures, these emotions — I will never forget.”

Great race. Exciting to watch. Vettel’s driving skills in the rain are impressive.

Japan to withdraw from Iraq by year’s end?

Japan has said wants to withdraw its remaining military personnel from Iraq by year’s end, wrapping up an overseas mission that had pleased Washington but divided this pacifist nation.

Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the country was negotiating a withdrawal of its small military airlift mission because of the improved security situation in Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had asked for a reduction in the presence of foreign military.

However, the future of the Afghan mission is also in question as the law currently authorizing it comes up for renewal in January. Renewing the law may prove difficult because the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house of Parliament, is against renewal.

Perhaps – just perhaps – the ruling politicians in Japan will begin to listen to their citizens. If they do, they’ll have a headstart on the United States.

Economics researchers developing “Cyndex” – cynicism index

Cynicism may now represent one of the greatest threats to democracy, according to a research project at the London School of Economics.

Findings indicate that people are more cynical about politics than anything else, and that cynicism is a more important factor than distrust when it comes to whether people vote. Those who think politicians are liars will probably continue to vote, whereas those who are contemptuous of them are less likely to do so.

But what if politicians could measure the impact that their buzz words were having on the cynicism levels of different groups? The Syntony Research Team at the LSE is trying to develop a ‘Cyndex’ – a cynicism index. It would measure the emotional responses of cynics according to their age, race, religion, gender and socio-economic backgrounds – from mild frustration to violent anger.

All the evidence shows people are getting more cynical with the messages we get from government, from businesses, from the media,’ said Charles Liasides of Syntony…

The team is planning a nationwide sample to create the Cyndex, which it intends to develop commercially. ‘We believe it will be valuable for all communicators to help them be more credible with the public,’ said Liasides.

More likely, it will teach our politicians and corporate leaders how to be more effective liars.

Is that cynical enough?

Where have all the Bahamian flamingos gone?

The southern Bahamian island of Great Inagua is known for two things — its old salt plant and a 60,000-strong flamingo flock. Now some Bahamians wonder if they might end up losing both after Hurricane Ike ripped across the island last week causing millions of dollars in damage.

Most of the flamingos, which attract bird-watchers from all over the world, took off before Ike arrived and have not been seen since…

Glenn Bannister, president of the Bahamas National Trust, said all of the island’s birds — including Bahama parrots and White Crown pigeons — vanished before the storm hit.

The parrots returned after the storm, desperately seeking food among the storm-blasted trees and plant life. But for now, most of the flamingos have not come back and Bannister has no idea where they’ve gone…

Meanwhile, islanders are pondering another possible loss. Owners of Morton Salt, which employs 60 percent of the workforce on Inagua and is the only industry on the island of 1,000 people, have cast doubt on the salt plant’s future.

The company said it “cannot say with 100 percent certainty” that the badly damaged plant will continue operating.

Cripes. Let’s all go buy some salt and send Morton an email asking them to keep those folks on the job.

Berlin coppers shut down chocolate shop for stoners

Police closed down a Berlin sweet shop after discovering the owner was selling chocolates and lollipops laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana.

The 23-year old owner of the shop in the trendy east Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg…was taken into custody on suspicion of drug-dealing.

“In the shop we found 120 pieces of magic mushroom chocolate and countless cannabis lollipops,” said police, who confiscated around 70 sachets containing various drugs, about 20 marijuana joints, a range of pills and some jars of drug-laced honey.

Cripes. Doesn’t chocolate do enough for you on its own?