Secrets Of Freemasons Finally Set To Be Revealed.

Some say it's a cult, others a secret society. Few know exactly what goes on behind the closed doors of Masonic Lodges scattered all over the US. Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternities in the world. Freemasonry started in the Middle Ages with the craftsmen who built the beautiful cathedrals and castles of medieval Europe. They formed craft guilds to protect the secrets of their building trade and to pass on their knowledge to worthy inheritors. With the passage of time the trade of masonry declined but the principles and fraternity of the Freemasons continued to attract men from other professions, men of learning, integrity and goodwill. The society gradually spread all over the world and many of our Founding Fathers including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Paul Revere were Freemasons.Masonry teaches that every person has a responsibility to improve things in the world. It encourages good citizenship and engages in numerous charitable activities. Although membership is not difficult to obtain, meetings are common knowledge and the addresses of the societies are available in the telephone book, there remains an air of mystery around their ceremonies. They use secret signs and hand grips to gain admission to the lodges. Each lodge has its own set of signs and they may be changed from time to time. It is precisely these practices that make the Freemasons sound as if they are a secret society. By the way only males are admitted as Masons.

The number of Masons in the US has declined over the years. For instance the number of Masons in New York has gone down from a high of about 346,000 in 1929 to about 54,000 today.For the first time the lodges are actively reaching out for new members.In spite of the present openness about their activities, they are even giving guided tours of their lodges in a bid to attract new members, they still are not willing to describe what happens in the room when members gather for a lodge meeting.

Interest in the society is all set to be revived as Dan Brown the author of the bestselling "The Da Vinci Code' is set to explore the mysterious society in a new book 'The Solomon Key.' In this book he explores the hidden mysteries in the city of Washington. He claims that there is a Masonic design in Washington's city plan.He points out that when Washington is viewed from the air the perfect square and compass, which are the universal symbols of Freemasonry , are clearly visible. He also points out that the city's major landmarks, the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House and the Jefferson Memorial , if viewed in a certain manner, form the shape of a square and a compass.At the center of these stands the George Washington monument whose dimensions are 555 feet high by 55 feet wide.The number five has great significance for the Freemasons. It seems that Freemasonry had a very important role in the the history of the US and the early American Republic. The book is eagerly awaited and given that it explores 'codes and mysteries' it may turn out to be another bestseller.

How to Minimize Losses in Forex?

Many Forex traders know that often one or two unsuccesful trades can destroy all the previous profits made during the cirrent day, month or year. It is natural to hear things like: "I made $10,000 in the previous month, but I had two unsuccessful trades where I lost twice as much".

The reasons for increased losses are different, but the most general is the fact that the Forex traders don’t want to admit that in the chosen position they are wrong. Indeed, a couple of successful deals can make your month, while a couple of less successful deals may destroy the success not only of this month, but also of the previous one.

One of the tactical schemes which changed the activities of many Forex traders dramatically is the practice of accepting the losses with the purpose of decreasing total damage. Many traders doing this and preparing themselves to the fact that they will lose are actually starting to earn.

The practice of incurring losses requires an attitude totally different from the dream about large incomes. You don’t get stuck with the thought how much you would earn or how you would feel. You just mechanically focus on the practice of incurring losses, proving for yourself that you can take losses easily, which occur when “stop loss” works. You concentrate on working without keeping the score of losses and profits.

An effective technique which works with any time frames is moving your “stop loss” to make-out to keep the profits. In other words, move your “stop loss” to the starting point just as fast as your position will become profitable. This will protect you from losing money in this position, and while the position changes in your direction, move “stop loss” to protect half of your profit. If the profit increases to a certain extent and then decreases more than by half, close this position. Many techniques can be used, but the key is a system which cuts down losses.

This system is similar to insurance. Though the price is high, there is a reason – a mistake can cost you everything.

What is Forcing Citigroup to Cut Jobs?

CNBC reports that massive layoffs are being planned by Citigroup Inc., America's largest bank. Faced with huge fourth quarter losses the bank is under pressure to cut costs and another round of job cuts may be the only way out(Citi has already cut jobs once earlier this year).

What really ails Citi? Citi has been growing a bit too fast for some time now.It has been picking up foreign banks and brokerage firms wherever it can, without giving too much thought to managing what it already has. The Nikko Cordial bid, picking up a stake in a brokerage firm in India, the Grupo Financiero buyout in Central America and continuous investments in China reinforce the image of a company that is growing by acquisitions rather than focusing on organic growth.The global sphere of its operations ( it is present in over 100 countries) has naturally led to a huge increase in expenses.In fact this increase had become significant enough for Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to remark to the effect that 'draconian measures need to be taken to curb expenses.' Incidentally the Prince is perhaps the largest single shareholder in the bank.

The tipping point has been the sub prime crisis.Citi has unveiled losses of $6.8 billion for the third quarter and it may lose a further $8 to $11 billion loss in the fourth quarter.Analysts expect the pain to continue into 2008 with expected losses of $4 billion.Citi has a direct sub prime exposure of $55 billion of which $43 billion is in CDO's. It has $135 billion in 'level three' assets.These include those assets which are not heavily traded, such as mortgage backed securities which are difficult to value, more so after the sub prime shakeout. According to Goldman Sachs Citi would need to write off $8 to$11 billion this quarter on account of sub prime losses and have placed it on' America's Sell List.'

Prince Talal acted swiftly and Charles Prince put in his papers Nov. 4th after an emergency board meting.But to say that Prince lost his job solely because of the sub prime investments would not be entirely correct.It had been rumored for several months that Prince's job was on the line unless he could show either impressive revenue growth or noticeable operating improvement. Shareholders were getting restless as the company's stock had not been going anywhere for several years. The only saving grace being the dividend of over 4%. The economy was clearly not in a position to allow the first option, so it had to be the second. After the sub prime loses came in it was unlikely that he could have continued.

It has been suggested that given its large workforce of almost 300,000 Citi can cut its workforce simply by reducing hiring and letting attrition do the work for them.But this strategy has the drawback that it affects all divisions uniformly and takes a bit too long to work out. The company needs to show decisive action and that it means business before the stock market will take notice and reward the decision taken. It is not too difficult for financial firms to find surplus workforce which can be laid off. There are always back offices and IT activities that can be hived off or outsourced. Fortunately for Citi, given its brand name it will be easy for it to find buyers for any such division if it ever decides to do so.The costs of cutting the workforce would be substantial, but small change for a company like Citi. But Citi has to ensure that its actions do not appear to be an act of desperation. Too large a cut and it may scare away potential investors in the short term due to the uncertainties surrounding the impact of such an action on its operations.

Meanwhile Citigroup shares were quoted at $30.47 in early morning trade Tuesday after the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority said it will invest $7.5 billion in Citigroup Inc. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Citi 'a premier brand and with tremendous opportunities for growth.' After this investment is converted into equity shares it will outrank the holding of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. This investment is significant and it is likely to signal that the free fall in US financial stocks is coming to an end.

Iraqi Refugees Returning Home.

The US strategy of troops 'surge' in Iraq seems to be succeeding beyond expectations.Although it would be premature to declare victory over the extremists and their al-Qaeda supporters,it can definitely be claimed that there is a significant improvement in the overall security environment in Iraq.Nationwide, attacks have fallen 55% since summer and stepped up military operations against both Shia as well as Sunni extremists have driven them from most of their earlier strongholds, although pockets of resistance still remain.They are also believed to be regrouping in other parts of the country.

The improving situation on the ground has prompted refugees to start returning to the country, particularly to Baghdad, where they are being warmly welcomed by friends and relatives.While many have returned due to the improved security situation,others have come back due to the harsh visa requirements put in place by Syria since last month which has made it more difficult for Iraqis to stay there.Many of the refugees have also come back because they were simply running out of cash.Unable to find jobs and being frequently on the move has taken a heavy toll on these people.Even the well off have been impoverished by years in exile.

The Iraqi government on its part is encouraging them to come back and has started to organize free trips and protected convoys for the purpose. Even free air tickets are being offered.But it is going to be a long time before all the estimated 2.2 million refugees finally come home.

Abdul Samad Sultan the country's displacement and migration minister claims that almost 1600 Iraqis are returning everyday, most of them from Syria which is home to the maximum number of Iraqi refugees.This is the main reason why Syria has tightened visa requirements because it claims that the influx of refugees has stressed its education, health and housing system to a point that international assistance is needed.

The biggest problem facing people who have returned is that many find that others have occupied their homes while they were away. The Iraqi government is trying to help these people get their homes back and is also handing out loans to set up small businesses to make these people self reliant and to integrate with other people.

Although refugees have started trickling back most of them are waiting to make sure that the reduction in violence is not simply a lull but a 'long term phenomenon.' They are convinced that the let up in bloodshed is only due to the massive security presence and that can't last forever. They are certain that the withdrawal of foreign troops will spark a bloody civil war. It looks as if US troops will have to stay for much longer than intended despite the political compulsions at home to bring them back as soon as possible.

Taliban May Win In Afghanistan.

Contrary to US official reports many experts now feel that unless NATO dramatically increases its military commitment in Afghanistan, the Taliban may recapture the country.Driven out of Afghanistan in 2001 it has returned and rebuilt a permanent presence in over half the country and seems to be facing no difficulty in finding new recruits as well as supplies.It has recently resurfaced in the North of the country and in areas bordering Iran as well.Their stated aim is to retake Kabul by 2008 and that seems quite likely at the moment.

What is behind their success?First of all they do not seem to be short of motivated soldiers and Pakistan provides them with a secure base from where to launch their attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan.Despite having lost many military leaders the Taliban do not seem to be short of middle level leaders to take the places of those killed or wounded.They are also not short of funds.They are thought to be financing their operations with the profits from Afghanistan's opium trade.Ironically, while they were in power they had declared war on the drug trade and had almost brought it to a stop.Their tactics of suicide and roadside bombings is also proving to be highly effective.Their strategy of hiding amongst the civilian population has also been very successful as it has both discouraged retaliatory attacks by NATO forces and the high level of civilian casualties has also alienated the local Afghan population.Iran is a constant source of support and it is now feared that even Russia has been secretly helping them.Indeed, of late they have become bold enough to even challenge the Pakistani army and in fact they have succeeded in establishing control over large territories in the North West of Pakistan.

Most experts however feel that the situation is not hopeless and that NATO can still win.They point out that the basic mistake the US made was to attack Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan.It diverted a large number of its troops and war material, especially the unmanned Predator drones which affected NATO's fighting capabilities and left them with insufficient forces to finish off the job.What is needed now is an Iraq style troop 'surge' to improve the security situation coupled with strong efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people through speedy reconstruction of the war ravaged country.It is estimated that the NATO troop strength of 40,000 will have to be at least doubled for the purpose.It is clear that NATO will have to act quickly if it is to succeed.The events of 9/11 are a grim reminder that it cannot afford to fail.

Is The U.S. Justice System Flawed?

A report released Monday informs us that almost 2.2 million people are in US jails. This marks an eight fold rise in the number of Americans in prison since 1970.It costs the taxpayer about $65 billion annually. The report has been produced by the JFA Institute a Washington criminal justice research group.

The impact of such a large number of people in prison is awesome.Once you include the families the prisoners leave behind,the prison guards and the prison administration, the lawyers and the justice system, it would seem that the system affects almost everybody.

The benefits of the present system are clearly visible. The streets are definitely safer.The homicide rate in the 1990's fell by 43% and continues to decline. The value of a safe neighborhood certainly outweighs the costs of imprisonment.

On the flip side, the prison population is set to increase by almost 200,000 over the next five years and it will cost another $27.5 billion to build and run the additional prisons that will be needed.Such a judicial system also serves to deepen the divide between the privileged and the disadvantaged.This is because the disadvantaged, the less skilled and the less educated are more likely to end up in jail.Spending their productive years in jail not only reduces their lifetime earnings but also adversely affects the prospects of re-employment upon their release.It also certainly affects the financial prospects of the families they leave behind.Critics also argue that in spite of such a harsh system the crime rate is where it was in 1973.

So what needs to be done about it. Before attempting an answer it is necessary to understand the reasons that lie behind this prison boom.It happened because crime increased and there seemed to be no way to control it except by imposing tougher penalties.This resulted in longer jail sentences being handed out with fewer chances of an early release.The war on drugs led to the arrest of a large number of small time users and drug dealers.Presently almost 60% of prison inmates are in for drug offenses.Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy remarked:'Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long.'

Maybe it's time to give the entire system a re look.To start with, prison sentences for petty crimes could be shortened and prisoners could be made eligible for early release in deserving cases.Alternate forms of punishment also need to be considered.There is also a case for being a bit lenient on 'soft drugs.'Debates on legalizing marijuana for medical use seem to indicate that this option is being seriously considered.

An editorial in The Washington Times said that prisoners deserve punishment.'But we shouldn't forget that a vast majority will also be returned to society, which has as much at stake in their rehabilitation as they do.'

Washington Helps Pakistan Guard Its Nukes.

It's no secret that of all the nuclear weapons states in the world it is Pakistan which causes the most anxiety to Washington.This is because both the Pakistani government and its nuclear engineer A.Q.Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, have in the past transferred nuclear designs and technology to others.In August 2001 Pakistani nuclear scientists traveled secretly to Afghanistan at the request of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, and are supposed to have passed on designs for a crude bomb.Khan the Pakistani engineer admittedly sold nuclear secrets to Iran,Libya and North Korea for personal profit but was pardoned by the Pakistani government.This raised doubts at that time as to whether it was indeed a freelance operation as it was made out to be or the Pakistani government was also involved.

For a while after 1998,when Pakistan exploded its bomb, the US hoped to be able to persuade Pakistan to roll back its weapons program in return for substantial aid and security guarantees. Once it became clear that this will not happen the US seriously began considering other alternatives.These efforts have acquired added urgency after 9/11.

The US has been able to convince Pakistan to accept tens of millions of dollars in aid to help protect its nukes.It has drawn upon its experience of providing such security to ex-Soviet states to chalk out a program for Pakistan.

The security plan in place consists of proper fencing of storage sites, surveillance and tracking systems for the nuclear devices in case they get stolen. More direct forms of protection have so far not been possible because of Pakistan's refusal to disclose the sites where the weapons are stored.In fact Pakistani security personnel trained in the US rather than allow US experts to visit the sites to evaluate the security needs.This stems from a fear of a pre-emptive strike by either the US or by Israel on its weapons sites if their location is disclosed.

Pakistan is also not willing to install the latest US technology known as 'permissive action links' or PALS which are electronic codes which have to be entered to activate the warheads. It fears that the US will either install a secret tracking system to locate the secret storage sites or some kind of secret switch which will enable it to disable the warheads if it wants to do so.Instead Pakistan relies on storing its nuclear bomb components at different sites which would make it difficult for any unauthorized person to gain control of all of them and assemble a bomb.

This arrangement seems to have worked so far.But with Gen. Musharraf's authority fraying at the edges, and the increasing control of fundamentalist elements over various parts of the country,ensuring the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is once again at the top of Washington's security agenda.

Clinton Bashing Likely to Fail!

It is becoming increasingly clear by the day that senator Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic party nominee in next year's US Presidential elections.The Republicans also understand that they have a tough fight on their hands to stop her disciplined and well financed assault.So in an attempt to rally Republican supporters various hopefuls have been simply indulging in Clinton bashing.Sample what Mitt Romney has to say about her.'Hillary Clinton wants to run the largest enterprise in the world.She hasn't run a corner store.She hasn't run a state.She hasn't run a city.She has never run anything.And the idea that she could learn to be president as an internship just doesn't make any sense.'

The Republicans are clearly obsessed with her and lose no opportunity of trying to run her down.They think her proposals are ridiculous, and her ideas un -American and even socialistic.The latest is that electing Clinton would amount to a kind of dynastic rule which should be avoided at any cost.There is a website which aims to rescue America from the radical ideas of Hillary Clinton.

Her opponents have been trying hard to reinforce voter's doubts about her honesty and electability.To some her position on Iraq and Iran lack clarity and she seems to have skirted issues like social security, access to her White House records and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. The Republicans appear to view these developments as indications that Hillary Clinton is now vulnerable.

The fact of the matter is that Hillary Clinton owes her position of strength not so much to the backing of the Democratic party as to the failed policies of the Republican government.The latest polls put President Bush's job approval rating at 33% while 62.9% disapprove.The war in Iraq remains extremely unpopular because most Americans feel that they shouldn't be there in the first place.It's also clear that it will be a long and costly war to win.As if this wasn't enough the economy has not been doing too well in the past few months. The collapse of the housing market and the surge in foreclosures has clearly shaken the confidence of the people, and merely cutting interest rates is unlikely to solve the problem.In addition the American consumer has been impacted by rising food and fuel costs and the declining dollar.

Obviously the Republicans are focusing on Clinton simply to distract attention from their own mistakes.This may not be the best strategy to adopt.

The 'Twin Town' of Igbo-Ora.

There is a town by the name of Igbo-Ora in southwest Nigeria which has the highest rate of twin births in the whole world.So sure are the inhabitants of this town of their unique distinction that on the road going into the town there is a large stone which bears a proud message welcoming visitors to the land of the twins.

Nigeria has a large population and it also has the world's highest twinning rate. A study conducted by British gynecologist Patrick Nylander recorded an average of 45 to 50 sets of twins per 1000 live births in the southwest of the country. That makes it a rate of almost 5% of all births compared with a rate of around 1.2% for Western Europe and 0.8% for Japan. However fertility pills have increased the incidence of twin births even in the West.

There is hardly a family in Igbo-Ora that doesn't have a set of twins. In Igbo-Ora twin births are regarded as a blessing and a gift from God.Nobody is really sure as to the reasons for it.The locals attribute it to tradition which suggests genetic reasons for the phenomenon, while others say its just plain chance.The most widely accepted theory is that it is due to diet.

An important ingredient of the Yoruba people's diet is the 'yam' or cassava, a plant with a tuber root. The root is eaten in addition to the leaves and flowers. Yams contain a natural hormone phytoestrogen which may stimulate the ovaries to produce an egg from each side, causing multiple births.But others are not so sure. They point to the fact that yams are cultivated in some regions of Asia for their contraceptive qualities.Presently there seems to be no scientific evidence that yam consumption can cause multiple births.

Meanwhile in Yorubaland the birth of twins is a good omen and they are treated with respect. There are elaborate rituals surrounding twins in Africa which vary widely from country to country.These traditions look set to continue as the real reason for the prevalence of twin births is certainly set to baffle the medical fraternity for some time to come.

Overweight People At Lower Risk Of Disease!

This week's Journal of the American Medical Association contains the results of a study carried out at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Federal researchers have concluded that it is possible to be 'fat and fit,' that is, the dangers of being overweight appear to be exaggerated.

Katherine M Flegal a senior research scientist has stated that it cannot be said that excess weight increases your mortality risk for any and all causes of death. The researchers who analyzed 2.3 million adult deaths have arrived at startling conclusions.

They found that being overweight, not obese, does not increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer. In fact carrying a few extra pounds appears to significantly reduce the risk of dying from many diseases compared to normal weight people.These diseases include bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, liver disease. falls, suicide, Alzheimer and Parkinson's.

The exceptions were kidney disease and diabetes where being overweight does appear to increase the risk of premature death.

The net conclusion was that being overweight was associated with a decreased all- cause mortality overall. It is speculated that the modestly overweight may recover faster or survive certain diseases better due their greater nutritional reserves or higher lean body mass.The age group that seemed to benefit the most were people aged 25 to 59.

The results of the study have come in for sharp criticism. It is argued that this study has ignored the large body of evidence available which outlines the hazards of being overweight. Others have welcomed it and point out that the risks associated with being overweight have lately been blown out of proportion.

The debate is likely to continue for some time.But it is certain that there is no impending epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other serious ailments.Most importantly, this good news has come with Thanksgiving and Christmas round the corner. The turkey and the pudding and the chocolates are going to taste better this year.