Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to focus on some interesting news today and ignore politics. We’ll see how well I do.

BBC News reports that “an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan has broken away from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland”. You can see the NASA satellite picture at the link.  Is this yet another symptom of global warming?

Scientists have raised concerns in recent years about the Greenland ice shelf, saying that it is thinning extensively amid warm temperatures.

No single event of this type can be ascribed to changes in the climate.

But some experts say they are surprised by the extent of the changes to the Petermann Glacier in recent years.

“It is not a collapse but it is certainly a significant event,” Eric Rignot from Nasa said in a statement.

Some other observers have gone further. “It’s dramatic. It’s disturbing,” University of Delaware’s Andreas Muenchow told the Associated Press.

“We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before,” Mr Muenchow added.

Okay, here’s another one of my grave stories. No “seriously”, it’s another story about a grave.  This time they think they may have located Mona Lisa’s remains in Florence.

Scientists claim that they might have found the skeleton of the woman who posed for Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous painting.

Most art historians agree that Lisa del Giocondo was the woman who inspired Da Vinci to create his iconic work.

Now the archaeologists working in Florence are pretty convinced they have found the remains of the lady, merchant Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini.

The skeleton was unearthed beneath the medieval Convent of Saint Ursula in Florence. Knowing she became a nun after her husband died and lived in the convent until her death in 1542, a team of archaeologists began excavation works at the abandoned convent last year.

Sheila Bair is still on the stump for financial regulation.  She answered some questions on Wednesday on the state of Dodd-Frank.

Horwich: So going after systemic risk suggests safety, it suggests caution. Then we have this other important aspect of our economy where we say financial institutions are supposed to be taking risks on deserving people and businesses. How do you reconcile what seems like a real contradiction there?

Bair: Well, I think we do want banks to take risks but we want them to take risks on economic activities that have some real economic benefit. I mean, trading CDS indexes with a bunch of hedge funds — I don’t know what kind of positive economic benefit we would get from that. It’s the kind of risk you take and whether you’re taking a well-measured, well-understood, well-evaluated risk, that’s really the question.

Horwich: There are many people out there who would have liked to have seen and might still like to see banks fail — especially big banks fail — that they think have been misbehaving. What do you say to them?

Bair: Well, I say that we should have a let a couple fail. It makes me angry that we didn’t and I think there were tools there that could have been used that were not. You know, there were a couple of institutions that were clear outliers in the terms of their mismanagement — the risks that they took — and they should have been put into a bankruptcy-like process and they weren’t. I think if we had done that; that would have been more powerful than all the rules that we’re writing now to try to correct these misbehaviors. Be that as it may it’s a legacy of the bailouts and it’s something we have to deal with now.

Here’s one of my favorite Brit Economists Robert Skidelsky on “The Bad Society”. He raises some interesting points on income inequality.

There is a strange, though little-noticed, consequence of the failure to distinguish value from price: the only way offered to most people to boost their incomes is through economic growth. In poor countries, this is reasonable; there is not enough wealth to spread round. But, in developed countries, concentration on economic growth is an extraordinarily inefficient way to increase general prosperity, because it means that an economy must grow by, say, 3% to raise the earnings of the majority by, say, 1%.

Nor is it by any means certain that the human capital of the majority can be increased faster than that of the minority, who capture all of the educational advantages flowing from superior wealth, family conditions, and connections. Redistribution in these circumstances is a more secure way to achieve a broad base of consumption, which is itself a guarantee of economic stability.

The attitude of indifference to income distribution is in fact a recipe for economic growth without end, with the rich, very rich, and super-rich drawing ever further ahead of the rest. This must be wrong for moral and even practical reasons. In moral terms, it puts the prospect of the good life perpetually beyond reach for most people. And, in practical terms, it is bound to destroy the social cohesion on which democracy – or, indeed, any type of peaceful, contented society – ultimately rests.

Is Syria collapsing and what will this to do its ally Iran?  Better yet, what will this do to further instability in the region?

The fall of the Assad government would remove Shiite Iran’s last and most valued foothold in the Arab world, and its opening to the Mediterranean. It would give Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states their long-sought goal of countering Iranian influence in the region, finally splitting the alliance between Tehran and Damascus that has lasted for decades. And it would further erode Iran’s role as a patron of the Middle East’s revolutionaries, a goal that moderate Arabs and the United States have long sought.

Already the militant Palestinian group Hamas, long dependent on Syria and Iran, has thrown its support behind the Syrians in the streets seeking Mr. Assad’s overthrow.

Worse might follow, from Tehran’s point of view. Iran and Syria’s last revolutionary ally, the Hezbollah party that dominates Lebanon, would lose its source of weapons and financial support. And Lebanon’s fragile sectarian balance might be torn apart, raising the threat of another civil war there.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah was quick to respond to the government’s worst day so far to make its strongest declaration yet that it would not abandon Mr. Assad.

Meanwhile, intense global pressure is being brought to bear on Putin and Russia. Russia and China once again vetoed a Syria resolution.

Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution Thursday aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad’s government to end the escalating 16-month conflict in Syria.

The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the Syria crisis by Damascus’ most important allies.

The defeat leaves in limbo the future of the 300-strong U.N. observer mission in Syria, which was forced to suspend operations because of the intensified fighting. Its mandate, to monitor a cease-fire and implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, expires Friday.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who sponsored the Western-backed draft, said he was “appalled” at the third double veto of a resolution aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria and creating conditions for political talks. The resolution had threatened sanctions if the Syrian regime didn’t quickly stop using heavy weapons.

“The consequence of their decision is obvious,” he said. “Further bloodshed, and the likelihood of descent into all-out civil war.” Activists say more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, most of them civilians.

“The consequence of today’s action is the situation will continue to deteriorate,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.

The Smithsonian Magazine tell us that Ocean Acidity is just as much of a challenge for us as Climate Change.  WTF are we doing to Mother Earth and Mother Nature?

Rising ocean acidity is now considered to be just as much of a formidable threat to the health of Earth’s environment as the atmospheric climate changes brought on by pumping out greenhouse gases. Scientists are now trying to understand what that means for the future survival of marine and terrestrial organisms.

In June, ScienceNOW reported that out of the 35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide released annually through fossil fuel use, one-third of those emissions diffuse into the surface layer of the ocean. The effects those emissions will have on the biosphere is sobering, as rising ocean acidity will completely upset the balance of marine life in the world’s oceans and will subsequently affect humans and animals who benefit from the oceans’ food resources.

The damage to marine life is due in large part to the fact that higher acidity dissolves naturally-occurring calcium carbonate that many marine species–including plankton, sea urchins, shellfish and coral–use to construct their shells and external skeletons. Studies conducted off Arctic regions have shown that the combination of melting sea ice, atmospheric carbon dioxide and subsequently hotter, CO2-saturated surface waters has led to the undersaturation of calcium carbonate in ocean waters. The reduction in the amount of calcium carbonate in the ocean spells out disaster for the organisms that rely on those nutrients to build their protective shells and body structures.

The link between ocean acidity and calcium carbonate is a directly inverse relationship, which allows scientists to use the oceans’ calcium carbonate saturation levels to measure just how acidic the waters are. In a study by the University of Hawaii at Manoa published earlier this year, researchers calculated that the level of calcium carbonate saturation in the world’s oceans has fallen faster in the last 200 years than has been seen in the last 21,000 years–signaling an extraordinary rise in ocean acidity to levels higher than would ever occur naturally.

So, today we have a moment without US Presidential Politics.  Take a deep breath, then tell me what’s on your reading and blogging list today?