Hand to Mouth has New Meaning

A paralyzed man has regained the use of his hand after he had a pioneering operation to bypass damage to his spinal cord.

The 71-year-old patient injured the lowest bone in his neck in a car crash in June 2008.
The damage to the C7 vertebra left him without the use of his legs and only limited shoulder, elbow and wrist function.

He also lost the use of his hand because while the nerve circuit in his hand was intact, the connection between his brain and digits had been lost.

Surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis restored this link by rerouting working nerves in his upper arm.’

The patient can now pinch his thumb and index fingers together using nerves that once told his brain to bend at the elbow.

Senior researcher Dr Ida K Fox said, “This procedure is unusual for treating quadriplegia because we do not attempt to go back into the spinal cord where the injury is. Instead, we go out to where we know things work – in this case the elbow – so that we can borrow nerves there and reroute them to give hand function.”

The successful operation means the patient can now feed himself and even write.
“Many times these patients say they would like to be able to do very simple things,” Dr Fox said.

“If we can restore the ability to pinch, between thumb and index finger, it can return some very basic independence.”

The surgery was developed and performed by Dr Susan E. Mackinnon. Specializing in injuries to peripheral nerves, she has pioneered similar surgeries to return function to injured arms and legs.

She said hand function was not restored right away and that the patient had to undergo intensive physical therapy to retrain the brain to understand how the role of the nerves had changed.

Dr Mackinnon said another patient with a similar injury could be treated at any time as their case study received the surgery two years after his accident.
She said nerves run out from the spinal cord ‘like spaghetti’ to the tips of the fingers and toes.

Nerves remained healthy as they were still connected to the spinal cord, however the nerves could no longer ‘talk’ to the brain because the spinal cord injury blocks them.
To detour around the block in this patient’s C7 spinal cord injury and return hand function below the level of the injury, Mackinnon operated in the upper arms.

There, the working nerves that connect above the injury and the non-working nerves that connect below the injury run parallel to each other, making it possible to tap into a functional nerve and direct those signals to a non-functional neighbor.

In this case, Mackinnon took a non-working nerve that controls the ability to pinch and plugged it into a working nerve that drives one of two muscles that flex the elbow.
After the surgery, the bicep still flexes the elbow, but a second muscle, called the brachialis, that used to also provide elbow flexion, now bends the thumb and index finger.

“This is not a particularly expensive or overly complex surgery,” Dr Mackinnon said. “It’s not a hand or a face transplant, for example. It’s something we would like other surgeons around the country to do.”

Attribution: Claire Bates

Joke of the day

After a young couple brought their new baby home, the wife suggested that her husband should try his hand at changing diapers.

“I’m busy,” he said, “I’ll do the next one.”

The next time came around and she asked again.

The husband looked puzzled, “Oh! I didn’t mean the next diaper. I meant the next baby…!”

How to Lose 2 Billion Dollars (for starters)

Losing $2-billion in six weeks is quite the feat for JPMorgan Chase & Co., the venerable U.S. bank that was, until last Thursday, widely respected for sound risk management.

But how exactly did the bank get itself into this mess? And what trade blows up this quickly? JPMorgan isn’t saying much – likely because the more it discloses, the more its rivals will have to use against it. But keen market observers are trying to figure it out, and the speculative theories have been narrowed.

To understand the trades, you have to start by looking back a few weeks. In early April, Bloomberg News reported that Bruno Iksil, a trader in JPMorgan’s chief investment office, had placed massive bets on the health of certain companies. His positions were so big that rival hedge funds claimed the positions were starting to distort the market.

Mr. Iksil works for JP Morgan’s chief investment office. This division, based in London, is supposed to hedge the bank’s risks, but some say that its ‘hedges’ are in fact risk trades designed to duck the proposed Volcker Rule that bans prop trading.

When news of this division’s massive positions broke, JP Morgan didn’t say much. Then out of nowhere it hastily put together a conference call on Thursday to disclose that the CIO lost $2-billion in about six weeks.

The first explanation for the losses relates to what is known as the basis trade, a hedging strategy for corporate debt. Assume you own a 5-year bond. If the issuer goes bankrupt, you never get your principal back. To protect yourself, you can purchase a credit default swap (CDS) that mimics an insurance policy. Just like your car insurance, you pay a premium (fee or ‘spread’) to the swap writer, and in return, if you car gets stolen, or in this case the company goes bankrupt, you get paid a lump sum. But for this hedge to work, the corporate bond spread (interst paid to you) must match the CDS spread (your insurance premium). If they line up, your net exposure is little or nothing.

Historically, this held up. If anything, investors had to pay just a bit more in premiums than they received in interest, and this small difference was known as ‘positive basis’.

Every once in a while, ‘negative basis’ would appear for random reasons, creating risk-free profits because interest payments you received amounted to more than the insurance premium you had to pay. When this happened, big name hedge funds and prop trading desks would pile in and exploit the anomaly. To them, it was free money.

The problem, though, is that this trade is predicated on bond spreads (interest) remaining equal to CDS spreads (insurance premiums). As Felix Salmon points out, the market is currently very screwy, and many CDS spreads (insurance premiums) are blowing out while the bond spreads (interest) hold tight. For example, UBS’s CDS spread (insurance premium) is 85 basis points higher than its corporate bond spread (interest received), and Deutsche Bank’s spread difference is 83 basis points.

Mr. Salmon believes this dislocation is what got JPMorgan in trouble. The way he sees it, the bank was selling insurance protection, betting that CDS spreads (insurance premiums)would go down rather than up. Ultimately, they went up, and the corresponding spreads didn’t. So your insurance premium went up, but the interest paid to you didn’t.

Think of it this way. If JPMorgan was using this trade as a hedging strategy, it means the company was probably short corporate bonds. [By going short, the banks benefits when the bonds do badly (decrease in value), while in the CDS market, it suffers because it has a higher chance of paying out.] But because JP Morgan was selling insurance protection, the lower CDS value from wider spreads wasn’t offset by any bond spread movements (higher interest payouts).

JP Morgan wouldn’t be the first U.S. financial institution to get dinged by the basis trade. Merrill Lynch posted a $16-billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2008 for the same reason.

A second theory is much more complex, but the main idea is that JP Morgan may have tried to hedge a position by placing various trades on an index of liquid credit default swaps. As the market rallied over the past few months, it forced JP Morgan to increase its position with this index. This resulted in massive mispricing because the bank made the index more expensive that the sum of its constituents (artificially propped up).

“This is akin to looking at the 500 names in the S&P 500 – weighting them and seeing that the S&P 500 index should trade at 1,200 but it is trading at 1,400…” Zero Hedge noted.

If this played out, rival hedge funds would have tried to short the index (betting it would decrease in value) because they knew it was too expensive. After they did, the index should have fallen right away, yet JPMorgan had to keep supporting it because it needed the hedge. The longer this went on, the more questions the other hedge funds asked, and eventually Mr. Iksil was discovered.

After building this position, JPMorgan could have gotten in trouble because the market stopped rising. The problem is that it couldn’t unwind its position because its rivals had figured out what it was up to.

That’s why Jamie Dimon may have said that more losses could come. If he’s stuck with these trades, competitor hedge funds are going to do everything they can to make sure JPMorgan can’t get out of them.

If this is the case, more losses are certain to be announced.

Attribution: Janamejayan

If All Else Fails…Read the Manual

 An English language, al Qaeda guide includes rules such as keeping clean, not using mobile phones and thinking of virgins in paradise when bomber-drones are overhead.

Described as a “must-read” source, it has emerged on the internet shortly after it was leaked that AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) had been penetrated by a British spy who managed to smuggle out the latest version of their “underpants bomb”.

The guide was written by Samir Khan, an American who served as the top propagandist for the Yemen-based branch of the terrorist movement, which is considered the most dangerous to the West. He was killed by a drone attack in September, alongside AQAP’s chief ideologue, Anwar al-Awlaki,

Khan writes that he had been under the impression that he would be fighting most of the time after joining. “The reality is not quite like that,” he said.

The first section is titled “cleanliness” and says: “In some cases, you will be staying with a few brothers in a tight room or house”. “In order to avoid unnecessary problems, encourage yourself and your brothers to clean the room(s) on a regular basis. As for yourself, a daily shower is ideal but not possible in many cases.”

He describes the “bee-like sound” of the unmanned aerial vehicles in a section headed: “aerial bombardment.” 

“If you feel terrified,” he says. “Close your eyes and imagine yourself inside paradise. Think of your hoor [virgins] that are awaiting you as well as meeting the prophets.”

In a section apparently designed to scare western recruits into staying at home and attacking the West from there, the manual says recruits may have to sleep on “sand, rocks or grass.” Laying out the training, Khan writes: “In al-qa’idah, we don’t care about the size of your muscles, how fast you run, how strong your legs are and so on – although these things will be strengthened – but we put a special focus on ’lasting long’ and out doing the enemy in patience.” At one camp in Afghanistan, he warns, the trainers ordered the fighters to walk around barefoot.

“In short, prepare for the worse, and hope in the best,” Khan says.

The manual says that one of the “pillars of modern-day jihad” is secrecy, adding: “If I am British but of Indian descent, I tell the brothers I’m from so-and-so land (a place where you obviously not from).” The guide also says there are “certain questions you should avoid asking,” because: “The more you ask these kind of questions, the more the mujaheddin and its leadership will think of you as a spy and place you on their blacklist, keeping a close watch of you.”

The al-Qaeda fighters also apparently believe in black magic, with Khan writing that the “apostate” government of Saudi Arabia has individuals that “work alongside evil jinns [spirits] that spy on the mujaheddin and give away their position.”

Attribution: Duncan Gardham

Joke of the Day

Cinderella was now 75 years old. After a fulfilling life with the now dead Prince, she happily sat upon her rocking chair, watching the world go by from her front porch, with a cat called Alan for companionship.

One sunny afternoon, out of nowhere, appeared the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella said “Fairy Godmother, what are you doing here after all these years?” The Fairy Godmother replied “Well Cinderella, since you have lived a good, wholesome life since we last met, I have decided to grant you 3 wishes. Is there anything for which your heart still yearns?”

Cinderella is taken aback, overjoyed and after some thoughtful consideration and almost under her breath she uttered her first wish “I wish I was wealthy beyond comprehension.”

Instantly, her rocking chair was turned into solid gold. Cinderella was stunned. Alan, her old faithful cat, jumped off her lap and scampered to the edge of the porch, quivering with fear. Cinderella said “Oh thank you, Fairy Godmother”. The Fairy Godmother replied “It is the least I can do. What does your heart wish for your second wish?”

Cinderella looked down at her frail body, and said “I wish I was young and full of the beauty of youth again”.

At once, her wish having been desired, became reality, and her beautiful youthful visage had returned. Cinderella felt stirrings inside her that had been dormant for years and long forgotten vigor and vitality began to course through her very soul.

Then the Fairy Godmother again spoke “You have one more wish, what shall you have?” Cinderella looked over to the frightened cat in the corner and said “I wish you to transform Alan my old cat into a beautiful and handsome young man”.

Magically, Alan suddenly underwent so fundamental a change in his biological make-up, that when complete he stood before her, a boy, so beautiful the like of which she nor the world had ever seen, so fair indeed that birds begun to fall from the sky at his feet. The Fairy Godmother again spoke “Congratulations, Cinderella. Enjoy your new life.” And, with a blazing shock of bright blue electricity,she was gone.

For a few eerie moments, Alan and Cinderella looked into each other’s eyes. Cinderella sat, breathless, gazing at the most stunningly perfect boy she had ever seen. Then Alan walked over to Cinderella, who sat transfixed in her rocking chair, and held her close in his young muscular arms.

He leaned in close to her ear, and into her ear breathed as much as whispered, blowing her golden hair with his warm breath, “I bet you regret having me neutered now, don’t you?”

Collecting “Green Jobs”

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report counts 3.1 million green jobs in the U.S. economy, but the BLS defines these jobs so broadly that it includes even school bus drivers and trash collectors as “green” workers.

“Cheerleaders for the president’s program of green jobs mandates and spending point to the study as confirmation of green jobs’ economic importance,” said David W. Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.

Kreutzer takes issue with the report as “an effort to count the number of green jobs as a way of justifying subsidies and mandates.”

“Just a little digging into the data shows that only a small fraction of the 3.1 million jobs could have been created by green subsidies and mandates.”

The BLS study defines green jobs as those “in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.”

Using this definition, the BLS counts 43,658 jobs in steel mills as green because the industry uses scrap steel and can be classified as an active recycler.

Similarly, 27 percent of all paper mill jobs, 30,473, are counted as green because mills use recycled paper.

Steel and paper mill jobs “do not fit in with the rhetoric of the new, clean economy that green jobs proponents use to justify expensive green policies — the sort of policies that brought the Solyndra debacle,” Kreutzer writes in the Heritage Foundation report.

The electric power generation industry is said to have 44,152 green jobs, but only 4,700 are in renewable power generation.

The nuclear power industry has 35,755 green jobs, according to the BLS, but since no new plants have been built-in the past 30 years, those jobs “are clearly not the result of any green energy or green jobs programs,” Kreutzer points out.

Other jobs considered to be green by the BLS include those in used merchandise stores (106,865 jobs), waste collection (116,293), school and employee bus transportation (160,896), leisure and hospitality (22,510), office furniture sales (14,888), septic tank cleaning and portable toilet servicing (13,313), radio and television broadcasting (9,297), fruit and tree nut farming (12,176), and social advocacy organizations (20,704).

Kreutzer concludes that the BLS’s “definition and collection mechanisms raise serious questions about how green those jobs are and whether their count can be a useful measure of the importance of green jobs in America’s economy and the effectiveness of green jobs policies.”

Attribution: Newsmax

Shipwreck Ale

A shipwreck off the coast of Finland may hold the key to beer fanatics enjoying a brew which was created over 170 years ago.

Finnish researchers say they may be able to recreate beer from the 1840s after finding living bacteria in beer from the sunken ship near Aaland Islands in the Baltic Sea.

The 2010 discovery of the ship, believed to have sunk in the 1840s, also included the world’s oldest champagne considered drinkable, which has since been auctioned off.
Researchers analyzed two bottles of beer, which they admitted ‘had not stood the test of time well’ but retained a pale golden color and could originally have had hints of rose, almond and cloves.

‘Based on the chemical analysis we made of the beer and with help from a master brewer it would be possible to try to make beer that would resemble it as much as possible,’ Annika Wilhelmson from VTT technical research center of Finland said.

The wreck lies off Aaland, an autonomous part of Finland.

The name of the sunken vessel is still unknown, as is its destination.

It has been speculated that the cargo was bound for the Russian Tsar’s court in St Petersburg.

When it was unearthed, officials stated they believed the beer was the oldest in the world.

‘We believe these are by far the world’s oldest bottles of beer,’ Rainer Juslin, a spokesman for the local government of Aaland, said in a statement in 2010.

The enviable haul was found intact on the seabed at a depth of 50 meters.

‘The constant temperature and light levels have provided optimal conditions for storage, and the pressure in the bottles has prevented any seawater from seeping in through the corks,’ the statement said.

The discovery also consisted of the world’s oldest champagne of the labels Veuve Clicquot, Juglar and Heidsieck.

A total of 145 bottles of champagne were salvaged.

A bottle of shipwrecked Veuve Clicquot sold for $43,630, surpassing the world auction record.

Law vs. Morality

 Liberty-loving Patriots Have a Duty to Disobey Unconstitutional Laws

By: Walter E. Williams
(One of my Heros & favorite Limbaugh fill-in host)

Let’s think about whether all acts of Congress deserve our respect and obedience. Suppose Congress enacted a law — and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional — requiring American families to attend church services at least three times a month. Should we obey such a law? Suppose Congress, acting under the Constitution’s commerce clause, enacted a law requiring motorists to get eight hours of sleep before driving on interstate highways. Its justification might be that drowsy motorists risk highway accidents and accidents affect interstate commerce. Suppose you were a jury member during the 1850s and a free person were on trial for assisting a runaway slave, in clear violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Would you vote to convict and punish?

A moral person would find each one of those laws either morally repugnant or to be a clear violation of our Constitution. You say, “Williams, you’re wrong this time. In 1859, in Ableman v. Booth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constitutional.” That court decision, as well as some others in our past, makes my case. Moral people can’t rely solely on the courts to establish what’s right or wrong. Slavery is immoral; therefore, any laws that support slavery are also immoral. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.”

Soon, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare, euphemistically titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is absolutely no constitutional authority for Congress to force any American to enter into a contract to buy any good or service. But if the court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, what should we do?

State governors and legislators ought to summon up the courage of our Founding Fathers in response to the 5th Congress’ Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Led by Jefferson and James Madison, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 were drafted where legislatures took the position that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. They said, “Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government … (and) whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” The 10th Amendment to our Constitution supports that vision: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In a word, if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, citizens should press their state governors and legislatures to nullify the law. You say, “Williams, the last time states got into this nullification business, it led to a war that cost 600,000 lives.” Two things are different this time. First, most Americans are against Obamacare, and secondly, I don’t believe that you could find a U.S. soldier who would follow a presidential order to descend on a state to round up or shoot down fellow Americans because they refuse to follow a congressional order to buy health insurance.

Congress has already gone far beyond the powers delegated to it by the Constitution. In Federalist No. 45, Madison explained: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” That vision has been turned on its head; it’s the federal government whose powers are numerous and indefinite, and those of the state are now few and defined.

Former slave Frederick Douglass advised: “Find out just what people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. … The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”