Archive for September, 2008

g-7 99330029554.3 Louis J. Sheehan

September 28, 2008

he Wall Street financial crisis will reconfigure the world economy and the U.S. will fade as the world’s dominant economic force, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück said in German parliament Thursday.

“The U.S. will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system, not abruptly but it will erode,” Mr. Steinbrück said. “The global financial system will become more multipolar.”

[Europe summit photo] Associated Press

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, speaking in parliament Thursday, said the Wall Street financial crisis will erode the U.S.’s status as a financial power.

His remarks were the latest European critique of the crumbling Wall Street financial model and the U.S. government, which is trying to rush through a $700 billion bailout plan for the U.S. banking sector. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a more international approach to financial market regulation.

Taken together, the remarks amount to a fledgling campaign inside the Group of Seven rich countries to pressure the U.S. into global banking reforms, setting the stage for next month’s meetings of the G-7 and International Monetary Fund in Washington.

Mr. Steinbrück said the G-7 — currently consisting of the U.S., Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. — will in the future have to invite other players. China currently isn’t a member of the G-7.

Mr. Steinbrück said that the U.S. didn’t sufficiently regulate investment banks and criticized Anglo-American free-market policy as an “insane drive for higher and higher profits,” adding that yields of 25% can’t be generated in the long term.

Mr. Steinbrück later tempered his remarks. The dollar won’t lose its status as the world’s benchmark currency, he said. But over the next 10 years, it will be supplemented by the yen, the euro and the Chinese yuan. Louis J. Sheehan


hunger 0011222 Louis J. Sheehan

September 23, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan.  Pedro A. Sanchez, director of the Tropical Agriculture and the Rural Environment Program at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has come a long way from the Cuban farm on which he was born. In 2002 he won the World Food Prize for, among other things, helping Brazilians turn 70 million acres of infertile savanna into productive farmland. Sanchez later led a project in Peru that dramatically increased rice yields and headed a center in Kenya that upgrades soil, and thus expands food production, by planting nitrogen-fixing trees in crop fields. Currently Sanchez, who earned degrees in agronomy and soil science at Cornell University, is director of the Earth Institute–sponsored Millennium Villages, model African communities that use high-yield seeds, fertilizers, medicines, drinking wells, and even the Internet to lift themselves out of poverty. Our reporter caught up with Sanchez while he was in Timbuktu, Mali, visiting one of those villages.

Projections show global population growing to 9 billion by 2050. What innovations will we need to feed all those people?
One feat would be improving the efficiency of water use. It is possible to save a tremendous amount of water with drip irrigation: putting water through perforated hoses that are aimed at the crops, and the hoses drip little drops of water at pretty much the same time the crop needs it. I think we are through with big dams and big-project irrigation, which are very inefficient. In Timbuktu there are 15-horsepower Chinese engines pumping water out of the Niger River through four-inch pipes; the water goes into canals, then by gravity into rice fields. This approach can save a tremendous amount of fuel.

What else must we do, beyond using water more intelligently?
We haven’t developed a new fertilizer in the last 40 years, so we need to increase the efficiency of our use of the current fertilizers. We also need to develop nanofertilizers, ones that place the nutrients right where the root needs it on the molecular scale. And genetic engineering for seed is essential. We need to develop transgenic crops that have more resistance to drought, that utilize nutrients much more efficiently—especially nitrogen—and that are resistant to diseases. In 10 years we may have drought-tolerant corn fully under production in Africa, which would make a huge difference.

People worry that we’re running out of farmland. Where will the additional crops come from to keep the whole world fed?
A lot of increased production can come from South America—Brazil, Argentina, Colombia—especially in corn and soybeans and cattle. Parts of Africa, too. With 3 million hectares of good alluvial land, half of which can be irrigated easily, Mali could become a breadbasket.

How can Africa develop into a major food supplier?
Right now Africa is producing only 1 ton of cereal grains per hectare, while Asia and Latin America are producing 3 tons per hectare and the United States is producing 10. We think African farmers, with government subsidies and a lot of private investment, can increase production to 3 tons per hectare in about 10 years. Malawi decided to provide subsidies for fertilizers and hybrid maize seed. It doubled its food production and is now a major food-exporting country. There have been no food riots and no price increases. So one country has had the guts—the cojones, as we say—to do the right thing, and finally the donors are excited to help other African countries do the same. This is a very good opportunity, when food prices are high, for African farmers to increase food production.

What do you hope the world will look like in 50 years?
We will have a world in which there is no hunger. There might be some pockets, but there will no longer be a bottom 1 billion people living horribly while the rest of us get too fat. We will also see, with more development, a lot of peace. When you have less distinction between haves and have-nots, a lot of terrorism will end. Not that the people who do it are poor, but they represent the poor. A lot of things I’m talking about are things the American presidential candidates are talking about too. So that’s a chance for hope. Louis J. Sheehan

meditation 00001866 Louis J. Sheehan

September 21, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan

People who meditate say that the practice calms them and improves their performance on everyday tasks. There may be foundations of these benefits in the brain and immune system, a new study finds.

Psychologist Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin�Madison and his colleagues studied 41 employees of a biotechnology company, 25 of whom completed an 8-week meditation program. The scientists measured brain wave activity in all participants before, immediately following, and 4 months after the meditation program. Volunteers also received an influenza vaccination at the end of the program and gave blood samples 1 month and 2 months later, enabling the researchers to assess the volunteers’ immune responses to the vaccine.

Only the meditators exhibited increases in brain wave activity across the front of the left hemisphere, Davidson’s group reports in the July/August Psychosomatic Medicine. Earlier studies had suggested that this neural response accompanies both reductions in negative emotions and surges in positive emotions. The employees who took the course reported subsequent drops in negative feelings but no change in pleasant feelings.

Meditators displayed more-vigorous antibody responses to the vaccine than their nonmeditating peers did.


Louis J. Sheehan

abuse 0000184.6778 Louis J. Sheehan

September 12, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan.  Preschoolers often find it difficult to recognize what another person is feeling if they have experienced severe mistreatment at home. Two forms of such cruelty to children, physical neglect and physical abuse, undermine emotional development in different ways, a new study indicates.

Neglected kids have trouble distinguishing among facial expressions of happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, and emotional neutrality, say psychologist Seth D. Pollak of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues. Physical neglect involves acts of omission, such as leaving children unsupervised in potentially dangerous situations and denying them food and medical care.  These children may grow up in families that offer few opportunities for learning how to convey feelings, the team proposes in the September Developmental Psychology.

In contrast, physical abuse occurs when a caregiver inflicts severe, disfiguring, or life-threatening injuries on a child. Physically abused preschoolers readily recognize angry faces but also tend to see anger in neutral faces, Pollak’s group reports. These children often have trouble recognizing sad and disgusted faces but accurately select happy ones, the researchers say.

They theorize that physically abused children learn to keep an eye out for glimmers of angry expressions that signal palpable threats at home. As a result, these kids often miss facial cues to other negative emotions.

Pollak and his coworkers studied 31 physically neglected children and 30 physically abused ones, as well as 26 kids with no documented instances of abuse or neglect. Participants ranged in age from 3 to 5. Both sets of mistreated kids attended a preschool for children who had suffered documented abuse or neglect at home.

Each child tried to match facial expressions in photographs to brief descriptions of emotional situations, such as dreaming about a monster or having a birthday party with lots of games and presents. They also rated the similarity of pairs of facial expressions.

In a particularly disturbing finding, neglected children often equated happy and sad faces. This suggests “that even relatively simple aspects of emotional recognition are compromised through neglectful parenting,” the scientists hold.

Kids who had not been mistreated accurately matched and identified happy, sad, angry, disgusted, fearful, and neutral faces. Louis J. Sheehan

emotion-induced memory enhancement and amnesia 0000151.9266 Louis J. Sheehan

September 10, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan

Emotionally charged events often seem particularly memorable. But this vivid recall may come at a cost. A new study in England suggests that the same biological process that aids recall of emotional experiences also blocks memories of what happened just before those arousing occurrences took place.

These memory effects appear to depend on a common neurobiological mechanism, says neuroscientist Bryan A. Strange of University College London. Women suffer larger emotionally instigated memory losses than men do, Strange and his coworkers also have found.

Emotion-induced memory gains and losses reflect the activity of stress hormones from the adrenal glands on the amygdala, an inner-brain structure, the scientists assert in the Nov. 11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Prior research suggested that these adrenergic hormones, stimulated by emotionally arousing events or language, induce the amygdala to create long-term memories of those inputs. Those studies tested memory after a delay of several weeks or more.

In contrast, Strange’s team examined recall in the immediate aftermath of an emotional language�based event. Lists of neutral nouns presented to 58 male and female volunteers contained a single, randomly placed noun with a disturbing connotation, such as murder or scream. Nouns appeared on a computer screen at a rate of one every 3 seconds and were visible for 1 second. After viewing a list, volunteers tried to remember as many words as possible before moving on to the next list.

Overall, men and women recalled the emotional words much more often than they did the neutral words. Moreover, the poorest memory occurred for neutral words that were presented immediately before the disturbing words. Women forgot those words twice as often as men did.

Emotions are critical to this memory effect, Strange says. Among the same adults, no comparable pattern of memory enhancement and impairment appeared for all-neutral-noun lists that contained a single word in a different font or one word with a meaning unrelated to that of any of the other words.

Moreover, participants who were administered a propranolol pill before viewing lists didn’t exhibit the superior memory for disturbing words seen without the drug. Propranolol blocks transmission of beta-adrenergic hormone and thus blunts emotional reactions. Intriguingly, the people who took this drug recalled words that had appeared just before emotional words better than they did other neutral words.

In the same study, a man with extensive amygdala damage due to a rare genetic disease showed no emotion-related memory effects after viewing noun lists.

The new findings “have moved us closer to understanding both the beneficial, and harmful, effects of emotion on memory,” comments neuroscientist Larry Cahill of the University of California, Irvine.

Although common biological processes may underlie emotion-induced memory enhancement and amnesia, there may be differences between short-term and long-term memory, Cahill adds.

For instance, the brain may activate adrenergic hormones primarily in response to brief, mildly arousing experiences such as reading disturbing words, thereby fortifying short-term memories of those experiences, he theorizes. However, Cahill notes, adrenergic activation by sensory and motor neurons outside the brain may enhance long-term memories of highly emotional events. The surprising evidence for propranolol’s potential as memory-boosting agent also deserves further investigation, Cahill adds.  Louis J. Sheehan

memory 0000191.002 Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

September 8, 2008

As a case proceeds, police officers, lawyers, and others may interview children who witness a crime. However, youngsters may remember details more accurately if the same person conducts successive interviews with them, according to a study in the September/October Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Shortly after viewing a video of a staged theft, 46 kindergartners, 60 second graders, and 64 adults described the incident for an interviewer. The interviewer asked half of the participants

questions designed to be misleading about the critical details of the theft. The rest

received straightforward questions. Two days later, the participants again described the incident,

and all answered the same set of 20 three-choice questions about it posed by either the

previous or a new interviewer.

Memory accuracy and resistance to misleading questions improved with age, reports a team

led by psychologist David F. Bjorklund of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.


memory errors rose after 2 days only for those who had a new interviewer, an effect most pronounced

for the groups of kids. This finding surprised the researchers. They suggest that a

familiar interviewer may act as a memory cue for previously recalled information. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

birds 0000160 Louis J Sheehan

September 6, 2008
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With music, singers do battle or just keep in touch

DO RE MIRufous-and-white wrens sing duets with their mates, overlapping and intertwining musical phrases much as human musicians do. Listen to some audio samples.Dale Morris

When partners mingle music, it’s war. Or sometimes it’s just trying to find each other in all those bushes.

A new technique for locating birds by their songs shows that duets have their uses in both war and peace, according to a study to appear in the upcoming Current Biology.

Certain animals, particularly tropical bird species, sing duets much as people do, coordinating, interspersing and overlapping musical phrases. These aren’t the oh-yeah-says-who competitive singing bouts between rival males. A mated pair sings these duets, sometimes alternating parts so precisely they sound like one bird.

Biologists have come up with plenty of theories to explain the functions for these remarkable performances. Testing the ideas has been difficult though, because so many of dueting species live in dense forests that foil behavioral observations.

To study birds in these tangles, Daniel Mennill of the University of Windsor in Canada and Sandra Vehrencamp of Cornell University are the first researchers to deploy microphone arrays in forests to triangulate the positions of singing birds based on their sounds. Locating the singing partners and tracking how they move during a duet gives clues to the music’s functions.

In Costa Rica, the team tracked dueting rufous-and-white wrens, Thryothorus rufalbus. The partners often sang overlapping phrases while separated by as much as 140 meters in their dense, forested home. When dueting far apart, partners tended to move closer to each other.

This kind of dueting supports the idea that duets allow two birds to keep in touch or find each other. Mennill compares it to the game of Marco Polo, where a searcher calls out “Marco” and moves toward the searchee’s answering call of “Polo.”

Those “where are you” moments weren’t the only duets, though. Birds sang together when they perched side-by-side. So to test for other functions, the researchers played recordings that simulated duets from another pair of wrens, as if the neighbors were invading the real-world pair’s territory. The residents burst out dueting, singing five-fold more of their joint songs per minute than they had before the intrusion. This rise, the researchers say, supports the theory that a good duet is a good defense. Louis J Sheehan

pellicano 0000151 Louis J. SHeehan

September 5, 2008

Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator who once worked for Hollywood stars, and a prominent lawyer, Terry N. Christensen, were convicted Friday in the wiretapping of the ex-wife of the investor Kirk Kerkorian in a child-support case.

Both Mr. Christensen and Mr. Pellicano, 65, were convicted of conspiracy to commit wiretapping in Federal District Court here. Mr. Christensen was also convicted of aiding and abetting a wiretap; Mr. Pellicano was also convicted of wiretapping.

The conclusion of the six-week trial before Federal District Judge Dale S. Fischer opens the door for a number of civil suits against the two men as well as several others in the case. The suits, which were delayed during the criminal proceedings, largely involve victims of wiretapping seeking damages for incidents in which private conversations were recorded.

Mr. Christensen, 67, a founding partner of the leading entertainment litigation firm that bears his name, is the first Hollywood power player to be convicted in the six-year investigation and legal proceedings surrounding Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping operation.

In a statement, Daniel A. Saunders, the lead prosecutor, called Mr. Christensen’s use of wiretapping to gain a strategic advantage in the child-support case “a stain” on the Los Angeles legal community.

“We are grateful to the jury for helping to eradicate that stain today,” Mr. Saunders said in the statement.

The United States attorney for Los Angeles, Thomas P. O’Brien, issued his own statement, calling Mr. Christensen’s behavior “reprehensible.”

Patricia Glaser, Mr. Christensen’s defense lawyer and a partner at his firm, said she would file an immediate appeal. “We will be fighting this to the end,” Ms. Glaser said. “We think the jury got it wrong. We are going to be appealing on a myriad of issues.” She declined to specify which issues, but added, “believe me, there are a ton.”

The two men were found guilty of conspiring in the spring of 2002 to illegally tap the telephone of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, who was involved in a lawsuit over child support at the time with Mr. Christensen’s client, Mr. Kerkorian.

The evidence included a series of 34 recordings that Mr. Pellicano, who represented himself at both trials, made of his telephone conversations with Mr. Christensen. In the recordings, the two men are heard discussing and laughing about Ms. Bonder Kerkorian’s private telephone conversations.

The case went to the jury on Wednesday but deliberations had to be restarted on Thursday after a juror was dismissed for making questionable comments about the severity of the charges and then lying about it.

Mr. Christensen faces up to 10 years in federal prison, according to sentencing guidelines. Sentencing was set for Nov. 17. He is free on $100,000 bail and has been told not to travel outside of California without permission.

Mr. Pellicano was sent back to prison, where he is awaiting sentencing for his previous convictions. In May, the former private detective was found guilty on 76 charges, including wire fraud, racketeering and wiretapping. Mr. Pellicano faces up to 20 years in prison on the single count of racketeering in that case. He will be sentenced on Sept. 24 for the May verdict and for Friday’s conviction.

Meanwhile, the civil suits can proceed, leading to yet another chapter in a courtroom drama that has stretched on for two years.

“For Christensen, that’s the next punch,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. “I would think this gives impetus to try and settle some of those. There’s not much of a defense once you are convicted.”

Ms. Glaser confirmed that the civil suits could move forward, but said she was unsure to what degree before an appeal was resolved.

The investigation and subsequent trial have battered Mr. Christensen’s prominent Hollywood firm, which employs about 110 lawyers. The assault on lawyers and the famous people they represent initially stunned the movie capital, where studio walls and security departments were built to keep the outside world out.

The investigation of Mr. Pellicano began when an entertainment journalist, Anita M. Busch, was threatened in June 2002 after writing damaging articles about Michael S. Ovitz, the once-dominant talent agent.

The investigation into the threat, which uncovered Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping enterprise, seized Hollywood’s imagination as personalities like Mr. Ovitz and Bert Fields, the $900-an-hour entertainment lawyer who often retained Mr. Pellicano, were implicated.

Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were wiretapped, it turned out; Garry Shandling was subjected to an illegal criminal background check. Other stars like Chris Rock and Courtney Love were revealed in courtroom testimony to be beneficiaries of Mr. Pellicano’s illicit trade.

But Mr. Christensen is one of the few industry players who was charged. The only other person of note was the movie director John McTiernan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was sentenced to four months in prison; he has sought to withdraw that plea and is appealing.

Louis J. Sheehan