Apparent computer overload sent stocks plunging

The glitch that sent markets tumbling Thursday was years in the making, driven by the rise of computers that transformed stock trading more in the last 20 years than in the previous 200.

The old system of floor traders matching buyers and sellers has been replaced by machines that process trades automatically, speeding the flow of buy and sell orders but also sometimes facilitating the kind of unexplained volatility that roiled markets Thursday.

“We have a market that responds in milliseconds, but the humans monitoring respond in minutes, and unfortunately billions of dollars of damage can occur in the meantime,” said James Angel…

In recent years, what is known as high-frequency trading — rapid automated buying and selling — has taken off and now accounts for 50 to 75 percent of daily trading volume. At the same time, new electronic exchanges have taken over much of the volume that used to be handled by the New York Stock Exchange.

In fact, more than 60 percent of trading in stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange takes place on separate computerized exchanges.

Many questions were left unanswered even hours after the end of the trading day. Who or what was the culprit? Why did markets spin out of control so rapidly? What needs to be done to prevent this from happening again..?

One official said they identified “a huge, anomalous, unexplained surge in selling, it looks like in Chicago,” about 2:45 p.m. The source remained unknown, but that jolt apparently set off trading based on computer algorithms, which in turn rippled across indexes and spiraled out of control.

Many firms have computers that are programmed to automatically place buy or sell orders based on a variety of things that happen in the markets. Some of the simplest triggers are set off when a stock drops or rises a certain percent in the trading day, or when an index moves a specific amount.

But these orders can have a cascading effect. For example, if enough programs place sell orders when the overall market is down, say, 4 percent in a single day, those orders could push the market down even more — and set off programs that do not kick in until the market is down 5 percent, which in turn can have the effect of pushing stocks down even more…

“There was no pricing mechanism,” Dermott Clancy said. “There was nothing. No one knew what anything was worth. You didn’t know where to buy a stock or sell a stock.”

And most of the trades made during that enormous network fart – have been invalidated – whether they were opportunist, programmed or made by individual choice.

Make Spain the air hub for Europe and avoid volcanic ash?

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The dispersal of large ash plumes from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland has generated widespread interest due largely to the impact on air transport and reports of ash-fall throughout the British Isles. Some reports allude to this as a unique event, which may be true as far as living memory is concerned, but there is ample evidence for such events occurring many times before in recent human history.

The RHOXTOR research group, a joint initiative between Royal Holloway, University of London and Oxford University, is dedicated to the study of past volcanic ash falls in Europe, and holds records of their sources, distributions and ages spanning the past 50,000 years and more. This provides information on recurrence intervals of volcanic activity and patterns of dispersal at the continental scale.

Dr Simon Blockley…says: “One interesting point that emerges from our database is the common transport patterns of the Icelandic ash falls and, more importantly, the apparent absence of volcanic ash from sites in Spain. Recent investigations…found that volcanic ash is absent from sediments spanning the last 40,000 years.”

He adds, “So far the number of sites investigated in Spain for these tiny volcanic glass particles is relatively low, and there is therefore urgent need for further research, but the evidence uncovered thus far lends support to the proposal to view Spain as a potential emergency international air travel hub during times of Icelandic ash dispersal over Europe…”

The President of Iceland and scientific sources have made a significant point which everyone seems afraid to address. The history of volcanic eruptions in Iceland is consistent and frequent enough to be a problem for the whole travel infrastructure built-up in the last 100 years.

Someone should start paying attention to solutions.

Burka armed robbery provokes debate in Australia

An armed robbery allegedly carried out by a man wearing a burka has sparked a row in Australia on whether the full-face Islamic veil should be banned.

Opposition Liberal Sen Cory Bernardi said the robbery showed the burka was “emerging as the preferred disguise of bandits and ne’er-do-wells”.

Both PM Kevin Rudd and Liberal leader Tony Abbott dismissed the comments and said they would not support a ban.

The row follows similar debates on the burka in European countries.

Last week, Belgian politicians voted for a ban which would outlaw the full-face veil in public.

Mr Bernardi, senator for South Australia, made his comments after a man was held up at gunpoint in a car park in Sydney on Wednesday and robbed of a bag of cash.

The victim said his attacker had been a man wearing sunglasses and a burka, meaning he could not be identified.

Writing in his blog, Mr Bernardi said the burka was “un-Australian” and should be banned on safety grounds and for the good of society.

Mandating a dress code for religions is highly suspect in my neck of the prairie. Especially since one of the most powerful religions in the region happens to be Sikh. Folks who already survived enough harassment from the rednecks and bigots of America.

The critical question comes down to “official” dress codes outside the context of acceptable venues, e.g., school, sunbathing in public, etc..

NY Republican Senate leader sentenced to 2 years for corruption

Former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, once one of the state’s most feared powerbrokers, has been sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Bruno, 81, became the latest – and perhaps the most notable – state politician to face time behind bars after his December conviction on federal corruption charges.

But when he reports to prison may be up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is reviewing three cases involving the “honest services” provision of federal law that led to Bruno’s conviction…

Sharpe rapped the disgraced senator for a lack of contrition.

“I sat here listening for you to turn to the citizens of New York and say, ‘I’m sorry,'” Sharpe said. “You didn’t do it because you don’t believe you did anything wrong.”

A defiant Bruno, who did not take the stand during his 22-day trial, told the judge as much.

“In my heart and in my mind I know I did nothing wrong,” he said. “Maybe I used bad judgment, maybe I was cavalier in the way I handled my business judgments…”

Bruno was found guilty of accepting 11 payments worth $200,000 from two companies controlled by businessman and pal Jared Abbruzzese for consulting work he never performed.

He was also convicted of receiving $80,000 from Abbruzzese for a horse that prosecutors said was worthless.

If you’ve wondered who establishes standards for state and federal politicians, here’s a good example. A leader in the NY Republican Party and returned to office time and again by an ignorant fawning electorate that respects power over ethics any day of the week.

It’s the American Way.

Thick coppers won’t return stolen puppy!

After saving up for months for a pedigree puppy, Leanne Stewart did the sensible thing and had her new pet microchipped.

So when the mother-of-two’s Chinese shar pei Millie was stolen from her back garden, she at least had the comfort of hoping she would eventually be returned to them.

It took more than six months but, eventually, the £750 puppy was traced. Miss Stewart – and more importantly her nine-year-old daughter Megan – were expecting an emotional reunion with the pet. But this has been dashed by police.

They have been told that they cannot take Millie off the new owner because the man bought the dog in good faith – despite the microchip proving she is Miss Stewart’s.

Now she faces the agonising choice between a lengthy – and potentially expensive – legal battle or accepting she will never see her puppy again.

At the end of the day she’s my dog, she’s been stolen. I bought Millie, I have got the papers for her and she is registered in my name. I just can’t understand it.

The Liverpool coppers throw their hands up and say it’s a civil matter, now. They don’t have the brains they were born with.

You can be assured if someone was found with some of the clobber stolen from Liverpool footballers [everytime they do a match outside the country] the goodies would be personally shuttled home.


North Korea or right-wing Nutballs – who do you fear most?

Army called in to guard torpedos that missed target

A grim report circulating in the Kremlin today written by Russia’s Northern Fleet is reporting that the United States has ordered a complete media blackout over North Korea’s torpedoing of the giant Deepwater Horizon oil platform owned by the World’s largest offshore drilling contractor Transocean that was built and financed by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., that has caused great loss of life, untold billions in economic damage to the South Korean economy, and an environmental catastrophe to the United States…

On the night of April 20th the North Korean Mini Submarine manned by…“suicidal” 17th Sniper Corps soldiers attacked the Deepwater Horizon with what are believed to be 2 incendiary torpedoes causing a massive explosion and resulting in 11 workers on this giant oil rig being killed outright. Barely 48 hours later, on April 22nd , this North Korean Mini Submarine committed its final atrocity by exploding itself directly beneath the Deepwater Horizon causing this $1 Billion oil rig to sink beneath the seas and marking 2010’s celebration of Earth Day with one of the largest environmental catastrophes our World has ever seen.

To the reason for North Korea attacking the Deepwater Horizon, these reports say, was to present US President Obama with an “impossible dilemma” prior to the opening of the United Nations Review Conference of the Parties to the Treat on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) set to begin May 3rd in New York.

This “impossible dilemma” facing Obama is indeed real as the decision he is faced with is either to allow the continuation of this massive oil leak catastrophe to continue for months, or immediately stop it by the only known and proven means possible, the detonation of a thermonuclear device.

Every nutball south of Sarah has joined in on this one.

Here’s your chance!

Scientists condemn ‘political assaults’ on climate researchers

A group of 255 of the world’s top scientists today written an open letter aimed at restoring public faith in the integrity of climate science.

In a strongly worded reproof of the recent escalation of political assaults on climatologists, the letter, published in the US Journal Science and signed by 11 Nobel laureates, attacks critics driven by “special interests or dogma” and “McCarthy-like” threats against researchers. It also attempts to set the record straight on the process of rigorous scientific research…

The letter sets out some basic features of the scientific method. “Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of ‘well-established theories’ and are often spoken of as ‘facts’,” it says.

The document, citing theories including the age and origin of the Earth, the Big Bang and Darwin’s evolution by natural selection, says that anthropogenic climate change is now so well-supported by evidence that it has achieved the same status. It adds that owing to science’s adversarial nature, “fame” awaits any scientists who can prove the theory wrong.

“There is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change,” the letter says…

“Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence,” the letter says.

Its call for an end to “McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association” appears to be jibe at Republican senator, James Inhofe.

In truth, I wouldn’t limit the politics of the assault on science to one or a few Republicans. The whole panoply of creationists, fundamentalist nutballs, those pitiful cowards whose definition of political correctness is grounded in obedience to the rich and powerful – are opposed to reason and research, science and education.

Nothing new about it. They’ve had a decade or so of building their role as henchmen to the Oil Patch Boys, the evangelical school board demagogues, the talking heads of hate radio. That the American populace would rise up and kick out some of their political hacks they adored is taken as a direct affront. This is nothing more than I would expect.

Hey – they loved the original McCarthy last time ’round. Why expect different?