Friday, September 14, 2012

Ancient Mayan mural found in family’s kitchen

                                                                    The Ramírez family sits in front of the Mayan mural discovered inside its                                                   home. (Photo by Robert Slabonski).
A family in Guatemala has discovered an ancient Mayan mural on the walls of its home.
National Geographic explains that Lucas Asicona Ramírez made the discovery while renovating his home five years ago in the village of Chajul.
The painting has been uncovered for the first time in centuries, and archaeologists are scrambling to document the images, which are fading quickly after exposure to air and light.
"We don't get a lot of this type of artwork; it's not commonly preserved in the New World," said Boston University archaeologist William Saturno."It'd be neat to see who the folks were who painted on the wall and why."
The painting show figures walking in a procession line, and some of the figures may be holding human hearts. They are also dressed in what appear to be a mix of traditional Mayan and Spanish clothing.
The mural is believed to have been created sometime after the 16th-century Spanish conquest of Guatemala, according to archaeologist Jarosław Źrałka,
Źrałka told National Geographic it has been a long and trying process to get permission to examine homes in the impoverished village. "I think they were afraid of us," he said.
"There's 500 years of history in this town," Saturno added. "See whose [house] it was. It's unlikely to be just Joe Schmo's house—it's probably an important person's house."

                                                                             A close-up image of the Maya mural discoverd in a Guatemalan home                                      (Photo by Robert Slabonski).

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Euro zone enters dangerous week buoyed by ECB

PARIS (Reuters) - The euro zone enters a dangerous week, strewn with potential landmines, in a somewhat more optimistic mood after investors welcomed a European Central Bank plan to prevent a breakup of the single currency.
German judges, Dutch voters, IMF inspectors and Brussels regulators could all spring surprises that make it harder to resolve a sovereign debt crisis which is almost three years old and weighing on the world economy.
Wednesday is the main day to watch.
Germany's constitutional court rules then on the legality of the euro zone's permanent financial rescue fund, the European Commission unveils detailed plans for a euro zone banking union, and the Netherlands holds a cliff hanger general election.
Then European finance ministers meet in Cyprus from Friday to try to thrash out differences over banking supervision and possible extra aid for Spain, the zone's fourth biggest economy, and Greece, the problem country that first triggered the crisis.
Decisions on Spain and Greece are not likely until October, but the talks may point to whether Madrid will apply for European assistance, at the risk of unpalatable conditions and supervision, and whether EU and IMF inspectors are leaning towards allowing a vital aid instalment to keep Athens afloat.
Europe has been holding its breath for two months for the German court ruling, a potential show-stopper.
All 20 legal experts polled by Reuters expect the judges to let the European Stability Mechanism and a European fiscal discipline pact go ahead, but most expect them to add tough conditions for future bailouts.
That could potentially tie Chancellor Angela Merkel's hands or, at the least, make her backing for bailouts politically even more difficult given a public backlash against last week's ECB decision to buy the bonds of vulnerable states.
If the court were to rule against the ESM, it would have a devastating effect on bond and currency markets, pushing the 17-nation currency zone deeper into turmoil by casting doubt on future rescues of heavily-indebted southern member states.
But if as expected it gives a green light, it may set out caveats that scare investors and complicate crisis-management.
Among strings the judges may attach are giving parliament a power of veto over each future aid disbursement or declaring a limit to German liability for other euro zone countries' debts.
"I think the Constitutional Court will let both treaties pass," said Kai von Lewinski at Berlin's Humboldt University, adding that it might insist on attaching a "clarifying sentence that German liability has to be limited".
A quarter of the public and constitutional law professors surveyed expect the court to say that European integration has reached the limits permitted by Germany's Basic Law and any deeper union would require an unprecedented referendum on a new constitution.
For months, it looked as if the Dutch election could end in paralysis or throw up a government in thrall to hard-left or far-right eurosceptics, making any parliamentary backing for future euro zone bailouts well nigh impossible.
But latest opinion polls show the centre-right Liberals of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the centre-left Labour party pulling ahead neck-and-neck, with support for leftist and anti-immigration populist parties fading, suggesting a pro-European coalition may emerge.
Even so, it may takes months of negotiation before this increasingly sceptical founder member of the European Union has a fully empowered government, casting doubt on its ability to agree to any early steps towards closer euro zone integration.
"Irrespective of the outcome of the Dutch election, anti-austerity sentiment and bailout-phobia in Holland is likely to become more pronounced," said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of fixed income consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy.
A fierce battle has already begun over proposals for a single banking supervisor based at the ECB and a future bank resolution system which European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will outline to the European Parliament.
Germany, keen to preserve its politically sensitive regional Landesbanken and savings banks from outside control, insists the ECB should supervise only the top 25 systemic cross-border banks and leave the rest to national regulators.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said the ECB cannot realistically oversee all 6,000 banks in the euro area - something of a red herring since the real issue is the 200 banks that hold about 95 percent of banking assets, according to the Bruegel think-tank.
However, crises have spread from institutions such as Britain's Northern Rock and Spain's Bankia which had appeared to pose little threat to the wider banking system.
The Commission and the ECB therefore want the new supervisor to have ultimate authority over all lenders, even if it delegates to national watchdogs. Bankers tend to agree.
"If we put all banks under the same supervision mechanism, that would ensure a level playing field," the chief executive of Italy's UniCredit (CRDI.MI), Federico Ghizzoni, told Reuters in an interview. "And it's not only large banks that pose systemic risks.
German lawmakers fiercely oppose longer-term plans for a common banking resolution fund and deposit guarantee scheme, which Barroso may raise in a state of the union address that will lay out steps to deeper economic and monetary union.
The ECB's promise to buy short-term bonds of vulnerable countries that accept a partial bailout programme has given governments a breathing space to repair the design flaws of the euro, but EU leaders remain far apart on what to do.
The EU's top economic official, Olli Rehn, sought to make such assistance more politically palatable to Spain and Italy, saying the conditions attached would be based on existing policy recommendations but "would have to include very specific objectives and a timeline on how to meet the objectives".
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said Madrid, which has already agreed to European aid for its troubled banks, should not have to meet extra conditions for sovereign assistance, such as cutting pensions.
Barroso will lay out the building blocks for closer fiscal integration and changes that may be needed to ensure "democratic accountability" in a more centralised euro zone. But several countries, including the Netherlands, have deep misgivings about yielding more sovereignty and there is little public support for such moves.
"Nobody, least of all investors, should be under any illusion about the reason why the ECB is acting more forcefully to shore up Spanish and Italian debt markets," Spiro said.
"These steps are being taken in the face of repeated failures on the part of Europe's leaders to solve the political, economic and institutional problems that continue to bedevil the single currency area. The big issues of a fiscal and banking union, to say nothing about growth and competitiveness, remain in the hands of politicians, not central bankers."
(Additional reporting by Lisa Jucca, Francesca Landini, Barry Moody, James Mackenzie, Paola Arosio and Luca Trogni in Cernobbio, Italy; Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by David Stamp).

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Grand homes you can buy for a song

8,000 square feet of living space on 18 acres in the Catskills for $499,000.Some of the nation’s grandest homes sell for surprisingly little. In many cases, homeowners are unable to care for large homes so the structures fall into disrepair; other times the financial stress of ownership results in foreclosures and short sales. Then there’s always the location—areas with depressed housing markets often have stately, well-maintained homes for a lot less than you’d imagine.
“Even when estates are priced in the millions, they can be a relative bargain given their size, amenities and architectural significance,” says Richard Thompson, National Vice President of Sales at United Country Real Estate. Thompson himself has seen sizable Victorian homes go for $40,000. And full castles built by Civil War officers sell for a mere $400,000. “Old river towns often have illustrious homes built during a period of brief prosperity that cost very little now,” Thompson adds. 
One of the most intriguing lots-for-little examples is pictured at the top: a grand old manse nestled in Fleischmanns, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Though much of the residence has fallen into disrepair, it offers more than 8,000 square feet of living space and elaborate architectural detail. Hand-painted murals grace wood-paneled walls. Turned banisters and gorgeous millwork are everywhere as well as stately fireplaces throughout. And many of the 10 bedrooms in the house have views of a pond that’s fed by a mountain spring.
The house sits in a clearing on 18 acres of mountainside woods. Upon arrival, visitors encounter the covered carriage entrance and view the home’s extensive wrap-around porch. Columns, curved windows, and surrounding ornamental gardens complete with a gazebo and statuary conjure the romance and prosperity of another era. An attractive, shingled ice house with a cupola sits behind the house. All this can be had for $499,000.

Ofcourse, a fixer-upper of such magnitude is not for everyone. “Buyers often watch movies and get unrealistic ideas about what it’s really like to take on a huge old house for renovation,” says Thompson. For the less-than-handy, it’s best to go with a house that doesn’t need work. One such example is the five-bedroom Victorian pictured above inOil City, Pennsylvania, on the market for $280,000. Beautifully restored and maintained, it is distinguished by its sitting porch and surrounding country gardens.
Measuring in at just over 4,000 square feet, the house offers five bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms. A huge entryway and gorgeous staircase set the tone for the rest of the home, which includes polished hardwood floors, original moldings and millwork, and high ceilings. The exterior features columns, Victorian fretwork, and shingling, all of which has been carefully restored. The home is a remnant of Oil City’s rise to prominence during the 1850s when it became the headquarters for Pennzoil, Quaker State and Wolf’s Head motor oil companies.

For buyers willing to spend more, entire estates can be bought. In Mount Dora, Florida, for example, one can buy this illustrious Mediterranean lake-front villa on 10 acres for only $2 million—not much considering that it offers 18,000 square feet of living space made up of 41 rooms. The home was built in 1904 and includes 13 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and 13 fireplaces. All of the original windows and millwork have been restored and preserved. Plus, there’s an indoor pool and the home is surrounded by formal gardens. In addition, there’s a workshop with an apartment above, and a boathouse that needs work.
What makes the property a real find, though, is its history. It was designed by Pittsburgh architect Edgar Vigners Seeler for James Laughlin Jr., the head of the J&L Steel Company. In 2006, the Florida Trust for Historical Preservation presented the estate with a Florida Preservation Award. An added bonus to an already sweet deal.

Situated on nearly 3 acres in Clifton Forge, Virginia, this 24-room Greek Revival estate has been completely refurbished. The 5,800-square-foot, $499,000 house commands an exceptional view of the town and the surrounding Allegheny Mountains. The property includes an in-ground pool, formal gardens, and charming playhouse. There are seven large bedrooms, including two master suites, and six bathrooms. Crystal chandeliers, oak floors, brand-new kitchen with granite countertops, two fireplaces, and solid masonry are among its other features. There is also a huge front porch with views.

Situated in a quiet historical district of St. Joseph, Missouri, this brick Italianate mansion at 1102 Felix Street is an architectural gem at just $199,900. The 5,000-square-foot home overlooks the town green. The house, which features a gorgeous verandah and Victorian fretwork, has been used as a B&B. Among its features are gorgeous wood floors, period-preserved millwork and a gracious bannister. The house has four themed guest rooms, a library, guest kitchen, great room, dining room, kitchen with butler's pantry, six bathrooms and more. Potential short sale, subject to lender approval.

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