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..There's a little Samuel Pepys in all of us..

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Now, while this may well seem to be one of the daftest moves any country's central bank could possibly take, in light of that which cheap credit has managed to do to our global economy over the past few weeks.. it's expected the US Federal Reserve appears set to drop interest rates by up to half a point in an effort to 'stimulate credit, and facilitate borrowing'..that by making money cheaper to borrow, it is hoped that people would spend and invest more, revitalising the economy..
It remains to be seen, how increasing personal debts will have a positive effect on any economy.. especially one so dangerously poised on collapse as is the US's.. But one must resort to drastic measures when confronted with dire circumstances.
It might, at least, hold off the inevitable. Maybe.
But it certainly makes one wonder about those in charge, who allowed this situation to develop initially..
Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan has admitted that during his tenure he "didn't get" how the surge in sub-prime lending might dent the economy, saying he had no notion of how large it had become until he was about to leave office.
Good timing though Allan..
This, coinciding with World investment banks revealing they have lost about $30billionAm ..£15billion.. from bad debts linked to the global 'credit crunch'..
Analysts are predicting the firms - many of which report quarterly results this week - will have to write-off 10% of the $300billion in loans they have agreed.
In some cases profits will be almost wiped out..
And one has to love the coinage of the new term 'credit crunch'.. It's so much more encouraging, less frightening, than 'recession' or, gods forbid, 'depression'..
And, not surprisingly,the government is to blame for the crisis at Northern Rock, according to Conservative leader David Cameron...he accused Gordon Brown of presiding over a huge rise in public and private debt.
Now, as explained in an earlier post, NR holds about a third of Britains mortgages..
The Tories are also calling for the government to say what it knew about the bank's problems before it sought help from the Bank of England.
Chancellor Alistair Darling said the Tories were "fundamentally wrong in their analysis of what has happened".
Meanwhile, worried Northern Rock customers are still withdrawing money from the bank.. to the tune of close to £2 billion in deposits so far..
David added..albeit somewhat unnecessarily..that the lines of savers queuing to withdraw their money from the bank "serve to remind us just how fragile the stability of the economy can be"..
"The credit crunch, previously restricted to the City, has burst onto the high streets," he said.. sadly stating the obvious..
More to follow..

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East..
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has hinted at bigger cuts to troop numbers in Iraq than those so far approved by George...
Mr Gates suggested the current level of more than 160,000 soldiers could be cut to about 100,000 by the end of 2008.. with George saying late last week, that about 30,000 troops might return by next summer..
Mr Gates spoke as a White House report suggested Iraq's government has made little progress in meeting key military and political benchmarks set by the US..
And.. it would appear.. there is little faith in American political circles that they will ever be..
Now this, while a report from France, of all countries, suggests the world should prepare for war over Iran's nuclear programme.
"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview on French TV and radio.
Kouchner said negotiations with Iran should continue "right to the end", but an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose "a real danger for the whole world"..
Iran has consistently denied it is trying to acquire nuclear weapons but intends to carry on enriching uranium..
Kouchner also said a number of large French companies had been asked not to tender for business in Iran.. which is an amazing turnaround for that country, which has always held a soft spot for the Middle East when it came to politics..
"We are not banning French companies from submitting. We have advised them not to. These are private companies..but I think that it has been heard and we are not the only ones to have done this."
He said France wanted the European Union to prepare sanctions against Iran.
"We have decided that while negotiations are continuing to prepare eventual sanctions outside the ambit of UN sanctions. Our good friends, the Germans, suggested that.."
Germans.. French.. 'good friends'..
This world of politics never ceases to surprise..

And as a footnote here.. a reminder of what our society is turning into..
Maryland University just outside Washington DC, a Professor Challapa and his team are inventing the next generation of citizen surveillance..
'Gait DNA'.. for example.. is creating an individual code for the way anyone walks. Their goal is to invent a system whereby a facial image can be matched to your gait, your height, your weight and other elements, so a computer will be able to identify instantly who you are..
"As you walk through a crowd, we'll be able to track you," said Professor Challapa. "These are all things that don't need the cooperation of the individual.."
Well thank goodness for that..
Then there's a Pentagon agency whose headquarters is a drab suburban building in Virginia. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) had one specific mission - to ensure that when it comes to technology America is always ahead of the game..and its track record is impressive. Back in the 70s, while we were working with typewriters and carbon paper, Darpa was developing the internet. In the 90s, while we pored over maps, Darpa invented satellite navigation that many of us now have in our cars..
"We ask the top people what keeps them awake at night," said its enthusiastic and forthright director Dr Tony Tether, "what problems they see long after they have left their posts."
And what are they?, one might ask..
He paused, hand on chin. "I'd prefer not to say. It's classified."
Of course..
Then what can they say about what they're currently working on..?
"Oh, language.." he answered enthusiastically, clasping his fingers together. "Unless we're going to train every American citizen and soldier in 16 different languages we have to develop a technology that allows them to understand.. whatever country they are in..what's going on around them..I hope in the future we'll be able to have conversations, if say you're speaking in French and I'm speaking in English, and it will be natural."
This, of course, begged the question.."And the computer will do the translation?"
"Yep. All by computer," he said..
And this idea about a total surveillance society.. one asked. Is that science fiction?
"No, that's not science fiction. We're developing an unmanned airplane - a UAV - which may be able to stay up five years with cameras on it, constantly being cued to look here and there. This is done today to a limited amount in Baghdad. But it's the way to go."
Interestingly, we, the public, don't seem to mind. Opinion polls, both in the US and Britain, say that about 75% of us want more, not less, surveillance. Some American cities like New York and Chicago are thinking of taking a lead from Britain where our movements are monitored round the clock by four million CCTV cameras.
So far there is no gadget that can actually see inside our houses, but even that's about to change.
Ian Kitajima has laboratories in Hawaii..and is developing sense-through-the-wall technology..
"Each individual has a characteristic profile," explained Ian, holding a green rectangular box that looked like a TV remote control.
Using radio waves, you point it a wall and it tells you if anyone is on the other side. His company, Oceanit, is due to test it with the Hawaiian National Guard in Iraq next year, and it turns out that the human body gives off such sensitive radio signals, that it can even pick up breathing and heart rates.
"First, you can tell whether someone is dead or alive on the battlefield," said Ian.
"But it will also show whether someone inside a house is looking to harm you, because if they are, their heart rate will be raised. And 10 years from now, the technology will be much smarter. We'll scan a person with one of these things and tell what they're actually thinking."
"Yeah, I know," he said. "It sounds very Star Trekkish, but that's what's ahead."
And the terrifying aspects of such a system, appeared to be totally, perhaps blissfully, a non-issue to those developing it..
Seriously frightening.

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