Monday, March 30, 2015

Musical Interlude: 2002, “Sea of Dreams”

2002, “Sea of Dreams”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Magnificent island universe NGC 2403 stands within the boundaries of the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis. Some 10 million light-years distant and about 50,000 light-years across, the spiral galaxy also seems to have more than its fair share of giant star forming HII regions, marked by the telltale reddish glow of atomic hydrogen gas. The giant HII regions are energized by clusters of hot, massive stars that explode as bright supernovae at the end of their short and furious lives. 
Click image for larger size.
A member of the M81 group of galaxies, NGC 2403 closely resembles another galaxy with an abundance of star forming regions that lies within our own local galaxy group, M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. Spiky in appearance, bright stars in this colorful galaxy portrait of NGC 2403 lie in the foreground, within our own Milky Way.”

“At Home In An Infinite Universe”

“At Home In An Infinite Universe”
by Chet Raymo

“They are questions that bedeviled thinkers for thousands of years: Is the universe infinite or finite, eternal or of a finite age?  It is certainly hard to imagine a universe that extends without limit in every direction, or a universe without a beginning or end. It is equally difficult to imagine a finite universe; what is beyond the edge? Or a beginning or end in time; how can something come from nothing? how can what is cease to be?

The problems are so intractable philosophically that their resolution has generally been left to the theologians, which from a philosophical (or scientific) perspective offers no solution at all. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for proposing a philosophical resolution (an infinite universe) that offended theology.

An escape from befuddlement is provided by Einstein's theory of general relativity, which- for example- can describe a finite universe without a boundary, as the "two-dimensional" surface of a sphere is finite and without an edge. Unfortunately, multi-dimensional curved space-time is so counterintuitive that it is difficult to get one's head around it without mastery of the mathematics. Given a choice between the ancient myths of your local preacher and the obtuse mathematics of the physics professor, it's not hard to guess what most folks will opt for.

I have just received for review a new book by physics professor Chad Orzel called “How To Teach Relativity To Your Dog.” It's a fun romp, and clever pedagogy, but I can't imagine it making the best seller list, much less displacing "Heaven Is For Real." 

Meanwhile, I'm reading a meditation on infinity by physics professor Anthony Aguirre, in a collection of essays called Future Science. He discusses contemporary cosmological theories based on general relativity, and in particular the rehabilitation of the idea of an infinite and eternal universe, or, more precisely, that our universe might be just one of an infinity of infinite universes. He writes in conclusion: “What seems clear, however, is that infinity can no longer be safely ignored; beautifully constructed, empirically supported, self-consistent theories have brought infinity from idle curiosity to central player in contemporary cosmology. And if correct, the worldview these theories represent constitutes a perspective shift unlike any other: in comparison to the universe, we would be not just small but strictly zero. Well, I can't imagine many folks racing to embrace that conclusion.

Oh, but wait. Aguirre adds one final sentence: "Yet here we are, contemplating- if not quite understanding- it all.”

 Vangelis, “Cosmos: A Tour of the Universe”

"Just Where You Begin Again..."

"When we're headed toward an outcome that's too horrible to face, that's when we go looking for a second opinion. And sometimes, the answer we get just confirms our worst fears. But sometimes, it can shed new light on the problem, make you see it in a whole new way. After all the opinions have been heard and every point of view has been considered, you finally find what you're after - the truth. But the truth isn't where it ends, that's just where you begin again with a whole new set of questions."
 - "Meredith", "Grey's Anatomy" 

"How The Completely Demented Right Wingnuts Would Like It To Be"

"We Must Ask Ourselves..."

''As Americans, we must ask ourselves: Are we really so different? Must we stereotype those who disagree with us? Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying roadkill-eating tobacco juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?''
- Dave Barry

“How Much Time Do Americans Spend Plugged Into The Matrix Every Day?”

“How Much Time Do Americans Spend Plugged Into The Matrix Every Day?”
 By Michael Snyder

“The average American spends more than 10 hours a day using an electronic device.  And most of that activity is not even interactive. The vast majority of the time we are just passively absorbing content that someone else has created. This very much reminds me of the movie “the Matrix”, but with a twist. Instead of humans being forcefully connected to “the Matrix”, we are all willingly connecting ourselves to it. There is a giant system that defines our reality for us, and the length of time that the average American spends connected to it just continues to keep growing. In fact, there are millions upon millions of us that simply do not “feel right” unless there is at least something on in the background. Just think about it. How much time do you spend each day with all electronic devices completely turned off?  

Thanks to technology, we live at a time when more news, information and entertainment is at our fingertips than ever before, and we are consuming more of it than ever before. But this also gives a tremendous amount of power to those that create all of this news, information and entertainment. As I have written about previously, more than 90 percent of the “programming” that we absorb is created by just 6 enormously powerful media corporations. Our conversations, attitudes, opinions and belief systems are constantly being shaped by those entities. Unfortunately, most of us are content to just sit back and let it happen.

The following numbers regarding the media consumption habits of average Americans come directly from Nielsen’s most recent “Total Audience Report“. The amount of time per day that Americans spend using these devices is absolutely staggering…

• Watching live television: 4 hours, 32 minutes
• Watching time-shifted television: 30 minutes
• Listening to the radio: 2 hours, 44 minutes
• Using  a smartphone: 1 hour, 33 minutes
•Using Internet on a computer: 1 hour, 6 minutes

When you add it all up, the average American spends more than 10 hours a day plugged into the Matrix.

You have heard the old saying “you are what you eat”, right? Well, the same applies to what we put into our brains. When you put garbage in, you are going to get garbage out. In my recent article entitled “It’s Official: Americans R Stupid“, I discussed how the U.S. population is being systematically “dumbed down” and how we are now one of the least intelligent industrialized nations on the entire planet.

A big contributor to our intellectual and social demise is the Matrix that has been constructed all around us. Virtually every television show, movie, song, book, news broadcast and talk show is trying to shape how you view reality. Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly being bombarded with messages about what is true and what is not, about what is right and what is wrong, and about what really matters and what is unimportant. Even leaving something out or ignoring something completely can send an extremely powerful message.

In this day and age, it is absolutely imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves. But instead, most people seem more than content to let the Matrix do their thinking for them. If you listen carefully, you will notice that most of our conversations with one another are based on programming from the Matrix. We all love to talk about the movie that we just saw, or what happened on the latest reality show, or what some famous celebrity is doing, or what we saw on the news that morning.  The things that matter to us in life are the things that the Matrix tells us should matter. And if someone comes along with information that contradicts the Matrix, that can cause anger and confusion. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said something like the following to me… “If that was true I would have seen it on the news.”

To many people, the Matrix is the ultimate arbiter of truth in our society, and so anything that contradicts the Matrix cannot possibly be accurate. Fortunately, more people than ever are waking up enough to realize that they have a choice. It is kind of like that moment in the Matrix when Neo is being offered the red pill and the blue pill.

Admittedly, a lot of people that do begin to wake up choose to take the blue pill and go back to sleep. But there are so many others that are grabbing the red pill. That is why we have seen such an explosion in the popularity of the alternative media in recent years. Millions of people all over the planet now understand that they are not getting the truth from the Matrix and they are hungry for real information.

Yes, the Internet is being used for unspeakable evil, but it can also be used for great good. The Internet has allowed ordinary people like you and I to communicate on a mass scale like never before in history. The Internet has allowed us to reclaim at least some of the power that we have lost to the Matrix. I don’t know how long this period of history will last, so we should make full use out of this great tool while we still have it.

On my own website, I have felt called to mainly focus on economics in recent years. And I will continue to chronicle economic conditions as we descend into the greatest economic crisis in U.S. history. What is coming is going to be worse than 2008, it is going to be worse than the Great Depression, and it is ultimately going to be worse than most Americans would ever dare to imagine.

But I also want to take my readers on a journey down the rabbit hole. Our world is about to get really, really strange, and I would like to be a light in the chaos. Yes, I believe that great darkness is coming. But I also believe that a great awakening is coming. Personally, I believe that it is a great privilege to be alive at this time in human history. It is a time of great evil, but it is also a time of great opportunity. It is a time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, but it will also be a time when those that stand for what is right will shine like the stars."

"Finding Our Way Back..."

“Biology says that we are who we are from birth. That our DNA is set in stone. Unchangeable. Our DNA doesn't account for all of us though, we're human. Life changes us. We develop new traits. Become less territorial. We start competing. We learn from our mistakes. We face our greatest fears. For better or worse, we find ways to become more than our biology. The risk of course is that we can change too much to the point where we don't recognize ourselves. Finding our way back can be difficult. There's no compass, no map. We just have to close our eyes, take a step, and hope to God we get there.”
- “Meredith”, “Grey’s Anatomy”

"Why We are Susceptible to Manipulation"

"Why We are Susceptible to Manipulation"
by George Washington

"Biologists and sociologists tell us that our brains evolved in small groups or tribes. As one example of how profoundly the small-group environment affected our brains, Daily Galaxy points out: Research shows that one of the most powerful ways to stimulate more buying is celebrity endorsement. Neurologists at Erasmus University in Rotterdam report that our ability to weigh desirability and value doesn’t function normally if an item is endorsed by a well-known face. This lights up the brain’s dorsal claudate nucleus, which is involved in trust and learning. Areas linked to longer-term memory storage also fire up. Our minds overidentify with celebrities because we evolved in small tribes. If you knew someone, then they knew you. If you didn’t attack each other, you were probably pals.

Our minds still work this way, giving us the idea that the celebs we keep seeing are our acquaintances. And we want to be like them, because we’ve evolved to hate being out of the in-crowd. Brain scans show that social rejection activates brain areas that generate physical pain, probably because in prehistory tribal exclusion was tantamount to a death sentence. And scans by the National Institute of Mental Health show that when we feel socially inferior, two brain regions become more active: the insula and the ventral striatum. The insula is involved with the gut-sinking sensation you get when you feel that small. The ventral striatum is linked to motivation and reward.

In small groups, we knew everyone extremely well. No one could really fool us about what type of person they were, because we had grown up interacting with them for our whole lives. If a tribe member dressed up and pretended he was from another tribe, we would see it in a heart-beat. It would be like seeing your father in a costume: you would recognize him pretty quickly, wouldn't you?

As the celebrity example shows, our brains can easily be fooled by people in our large modern society when we incorrectly ascribe to them the role of being someone we should trust. As the celebrity example shows, our brains can easily be fooled by people in our large modern society when we incorrectly ascribe to them the role of being someone we should trust. The opposite is true as well. The parts of our brain that are hard-wired to quickly recognize "outside enemies" can be fooled in our huge modern society, when it is really people we know dressed up like the "other team".

Because of this hard-wiring in our brains from the days we lived in tiny tribes, we are highly susceptible to false flag attacks. Specifically, if government agents dress up like the "other team" and stage an attack on their own country, most people's "defend the tribe" hardwiring kicks in, so they rally around their leaders and call for the heads of the "other team". Our brains assume that we can tell truth from fiction, because they evolved in very small groups where we knew everyone extremely well, and usually could see for ourselves what was true. On the other side of the coin, a tribal leader who talked a good game but constantly stole from and abused his group would immediately be kicked out or killed. No matter how nicely he talked, the members of the tribe would immediately see what he was doing.

But in a country of hundreds of millions of people, where the political class is shielded from the rest of the country, people don't really know what our leaders are doing with most of the time. We only see them for a couple of minutes when they are giving speeches, or appearing in photo ops, or being interviewed. It is therefore much easier for a wolf in sheep's clothing to succeed than in a small group setting. Indeed, sociopaths would have been discovered very quickly in a small group. But in huge societies like our's, they can rise to positions of power and influence.

As with the celebrity endorsement example, our brains are running programs which were developed for an environment (a small group) we no longer live in, and so lead us astray. Like the blind spot in our rear view mirror, we have to learn to compensate and adapt for our imperfections, or we may get clobbered.

The good news is that we can evolve. While our brains have many built-in hardwired ways of thinking and processing information, they are also amazingly "plastic". We can learn and evolve and overcome our hardwiring - or at least compensate for our blind spots. We are not condemned to being led astray by Madison Avenue advertisers and ruthless dictators and scientific frauds and fundamentalists. We can choose to grow up as a species and reclaim our power to decide our own future."

The Daily "Near You?"

Coppenbrügge, Niedersachsen, Germany.
Thanks for stopping by.

"There Comes A Time..."

"There comes a time in the life of us all when we must lay aside our books or put down our 
tools and leave our place of work and walk forth on the road to meet the enemy face-to-face. 
Once and for all and at last." 
- Edward Abbey

The Economy: "My Recent Trip to Mars"

"My Recent Trip to Mars"
by Bill Bonner

Gualfin (“End of the Road”), Argentina - “This weekend, we went to Mars. We’ll tell you more about that in a minute. First, catching up with the markets, we find that US stocks stabilized on Friday.  But as we’ve been warning, US stocks are vulnerable to a sharp correction. Valuations are stretched, to say the least. And the negative news is coming in like drone attacks.

Get Out While the Gittin’s Good: US GDP grew at an annual rate of just 2.2% in the fourth quarter. And after-tax corporate profits fell 1.6%. World trade relies heavily on China, which relies heavily on American shoppers. They might be willing to spend more, but they’re unable to do so without earning more. Gone are the days Americans could “take out” home equity. That leaves them just with wages – which are more or less flat – and their investment portfolios. 

Stocks and bonds are up substantially since the 2008 crisis. But only the top 10% of US households has benefited. The other 90% has flat or falling net worth.  Without the help of the giddy US consumer, China starts to look a little peaked and is nearing a crisis of its own. Shanghai stocks trade at 34 times their median price-to-earnings ratio versus 19.5 for the S&P 500.

Meanwhile, it looks as though a replay of the dot-com crash is coming in the US – this time centered on biotech stocks. Now, they are up to five times what they were at the last peak, just before the dot-com crash.  IPOs are running ahead of the last record – again, set just as the Nasdaq was melting down in 2000. As for earnings, you will have to find them yourself. Two-thirds of the companies in the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index lost money last year. In the broad market, 12-month trailing GAAP earnings put the NYSE on a price-to-earnings ratio of 22. That’s higher than it’s been in half-century – including 2000 and 2007. 

Best advice: Get out while the gittin’s good.
Hot as Venus… Cold as Neptune

Back at the ranch… The ranch is divided into two parts: one in Salta Province, the other in Catamarca Province. We have owned it for almost 10 years, but we have never seen the part that is in Catamarca. It is a three-day horse ride. And, we’ve been told, there is nothing there. Once, a couple of years ago, we showed the ranch foreman a photo taken by the Mars rover. “Looks just like our ranch,” said Jorge. “Over on the Catamarca side. In fact, it looks better than our ranch.” 

That part of the ranch is a high plain between one mountain range and another. It is bone dry and about 13,000 feet above sea level – an area known as la puna. Millions of years of volcanic eruptions, wind erosion and seismic shifts have given it a look that barely seems earthly. Huge mountains. Vast deserts. Snowcapped peaks surrounding gravel pits 30 miles wide. Sand dunes as big as shopping malls. Strange natural sculptures. Shallow lakes (with pink flamingos in them, no less). Hot as Venus during the day, as cold as Neptune at night. We had never seen anything like it. We had not even imagined that it could exist. Until this weekend... 

Rather than take the three days on horseback, we took three days by four-wheel-drive truck. 
It took one day to skirt around the mountain range immediately to our west in order to come up in the valley beyond it. It took another day to explore the area, or at least a tiny fraction of it. The third day, we drove home.

Hardly a Living Thing: There is only one road through this part of la puna. And only one hotel. It is a basic affair owned by the provincial government and operated by a friend of ours. It has no electricity during the day. And no heat in the rooms. Still, the staff serves a hearty meal (no selections available) in a convivial dining-hall atmosphere, with a fireplace centered on the main wall. Most of the guests are European, although we saw a recent visitor had come from Washington, D.C. 

The only paved road runs in front of the hotel. But there is so little traffic you could take a nap in the middle of it without fear of interruption. A police station sits next door. At 8 a.m., a policeman raises the Argentine national flag. Apart from that, we saw no other police activity. On our side of the road there were a few houses and a few lots planted in Lombardy poplars. (The variety seems to grow well in desert oases and is used here for building and firewood.) 

We couldn’t determine the source of the water; there must have been a spring dropping down through a series of canals to water every lot and pasture. Horses, goats, sheep and donkeys enjoyed the green grass. All were enclosed behind wire or mud fences… but we couldn’t imagine they would try to escape. No matter what direction they took, there was nothing to eat for hundreds of miles. The wasteland began on the other side of the road – across from the hotel. There was an area of thousands of square miles with hardly a living thing.

People Die Here: It is almost impossible to explore la puna on your own. You will get lost and never find what you are looking for. We hired Luis to help us find our way around. “What we have here is an area that was highly geologically active for a very long time,” Luis explained as we headed out, apparently to nowhere, toward the west. “The cordillera of the Andes is in front of us.” 

We studied the snowcapped peaks in the distance. “They are mostly volcanic. Over millions of years, they erupted. The ashes fell in this area – we’re talking about millions of years – and condensed into the pumice that covers the ground. And there you see the shapes made by the wind eroding these pumice rocks. They look like sculptures, don’t they?”  They did. Huge sculptures. As big as battleships. With massive bows grinded by the airborne sand. There were mountains of blue-gray pumice stones, too. But these sculptures were white. Nearby were gigantic piles of what looked like sugar but were white pumice sand. 

Coming around a hill to get a closer look, we suddenly sank into soft sand. Even with four-wheel drive, it looked as though we were going to be there for a long time… “People die out here,” said Luis. 

More to come…” 

“33 Strange Facts About America That Most Americans Would Be Shocked To Learn”

“33 Strange Facts About America That Most 
Americans Would Be Shocked To Learn”
by Michael Snyder

“Did you know that about one-fourth of the entire global prison population is in the United States?  Did you know that Apple has more money than the U.S. Treasury? Did you know that if you have no debt and also have 10 dollars in your wallet that you are wealthier than 25 percent of all Americans?  Did you know that by the time an American child reaches the age of 18, that child will have seen approximately 40,000 murders on television? There are some things that are great about the United States, and there are definitely some things that are not so great. 

Once upon a time we were the most loved and most respected nation on the entire planet, but those days are long gone. We have wrecked our economy, we have lost our values and we have fumbled away our future. But if you look close enough, you can still see many of the things that once made this country a shining beacon to the rest of the world. This article includes some weird facts, some fun facts, but also some very troubling facts. It has been said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and hopefully as people enjoy reading the fun facts in this article they will also take note of the more serious facts. If we are ever going to change course as a nation, we need to come to grips with just how far we have fallen. The following are 33 strange facts about America that most Americans would be shocked to learn…

#1 The amount of cement that China used from 2011 to 2013 was greater than the total amount of cement that the United States used during the entire 20th century.

#2 In more than half of all U.S. states, the highest paid public employee in the state is a football coach.

#3 It costs the U.S. government 1.8 cents to mint a penny and 9.4 cents to mint a nickel.

#4 Almost half of all Americans (47 percent) do not put a single penny out of their paychecks into savings.

#5 In 2014, police in the United States killed 1,100 people. During that same year, police in Canada killed 14 people, police in China killed 12 people and police in Germany didn’t kill anyone at all.

#6 The state of Alaska is 429 times larger than the state of Rhode Island is. But Rhode Island has a significantly larger population than Alaska does.

#7 Alaska has a longer coastline than all of the other 49 U.S. states put together.

#8 The city of Juneau, Alaska is about 3,000 square miles in size. It is actually larger than the entire state of Delaware.

#9 When LBJ’s “War on Poverty” began, less than 10 percent of all U.S. children were growing up in single parent households. Today, that number has skyrocketed to 33 percent.

#10 In 1950, less than 5 percent of all babies in America were born to unmarried parents. Today, that number is over 40 percent.

#11 The poverty rate for households that are led by a married couple is 6.8 percent. For households that are led by a female single parent, the poverty rate is 37.1 percent.

#12 In 2013, women earned 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees that were awarded that year in the United States.

#13 According to the CDC, 34.6 percent of all men in the U.S. are obese at this point.

#14 The average supermarket in the United States wastes about 3,000 pounds of food each year.

#15 Right now, more than 200 million people around the planet are officially considered to be unemployed. Meanwhile, approximately 20 percent of the garbage that goes into our landfills is food.

#16 There is a city in Bangladesh called Dhaka where workers are paid just one dollar for every 1,000 bricks that they carry. Meanwhile, the “inactivity rate” for men in their prime working years in the United States is hovering near record high levels.

#17 According to one recent survey, 81 percent of Russians now have a negative view of the United States. That is much higher than at the end of the Cold War era.

#18 Montana has three times as many cows as it does people.

#19 The grizzly bear is the official state animal of California. But no grizzly bears have been seen there since 1922.

#20 One recent survey discovered that “a steady job” is the number one thing that American women are looking for in a husband, and another survey discovered that 75 percent of women would have a serious problem dating an unemployed man.

#21 According to a study conducted by economist Carl Benedikt Frey and engineer Michael Osborne, 47 percent of the jobs in the United States could soon be lost to computers, robots and other forms of technology.

#22 The only place in the United States where coffee is grown commercially is in Hawaii.

#23 The original name of the city of Atlanta was “Terminus“.

#24 The state with the most millionaires per capita is Maryland.

#25 There are more than 4 million adult websites on the Internet, and they get more traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

#26 86 percent of men include “having children” in their definition of success. For women, that number is only 73 percent.

#27 One survey of 50-year-old men in the U.S. found that only 12 percent of them said that they were “very happy”.

#28 The United States has 845 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people. Japan only has 593 for every 1,000 people, and Germany only has 540 for every 1,000 people.

#29 The average American spends more than 10 hours a day using an electronic device.

#30 48 percent of all Americans do not have any emergency supplies in their homes whatsoever.

#31 There are three towns in the United States that have the name “Santa Claus“.

#32 There is actually a town in Michigan called “Hell“.

#33 There are 60,000 miles of blood vessels in your body. If they were stretched out in a single line, they could go around the planet more than twice.
"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, 
exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
 - James A. Baldwin

"I know my own nation best. That's why I despise it the most.
 And know and love my own people, too, the swine.
 I'm a patriot. A dangerous man."
 - Edward Abbey

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rightwing Nuthouse: “4 Right Wing Lunacies this Week: Phil Robertson's Insane Bloody Atheist Fantasy”

“4 Right Wing Lunacies this Week: 
Phil Robertson's Insane Bloody Atheist Fantasy”
And an Arizona Senator proposes a law requiring everyone to go to church.
By Janet Allon 

“1. Phil Robertson is a deeply disturbed man with a fantasy about beheading atheists. Apparently, the version of Christianity that ‘Duck Dynasty’ patriarch Phil Robertson believes in is a very bloody, vengeful, sexually sadistic and psychopathic one. Either that, or the dude is just insane. The right-wing darling got off this week on spinning out a fantasy involving raping, decapitating and castrating an atheist family during a speech he gave at a Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast.


“I’ll make a bet with you,” Robertson said in that aw shucks folksy way he has. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”

Just a few points: first, he did not make good on that offer of making a bet. Second, decapitating her head off? Third, and yeah, sort of the most important. The definition of atheism is a little off. It’s not believing in God, Sir Duck Commander, not the inability to distinguish between right and wrong.

Robertson’s fantasy continued, we’re going to say, perversely. “Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

Wait, who’s sick in the head?

2. Tucker Carlson and his brother Buckley are even worse than everyone thought. Tucker and Buckley (yep, that’s his name) Carlson must have one proud mama. At least she can rest easy that she instilled in them a deep respect for women. Ha!

In leaked emails from the nasty, smug conservative brother act to a female staffer for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this week, Buckley referred to the woman as “Labiaface!” Hey Buckley, do you talk to your mother with that mouth?

And no points for creativity either. There was a lot of mundane sexism in those emails tool, as well as sophomoric jokes about the woman’s name. The staffer, Amy Spitalnick, had simply reached out to to a writer for Tucker Carlson’s conservative website the Daily Caller asking for a correction to a story. Or as some might call it, doing her job. Things escalated and Tucker jumped in to tell her she was being whiny. Tucker and his brother then engaged in a little backchannel complaining about Spitalnick, accidentally cc-ing her on their e-mails. Whoops.

Highlight: "Great response," Buckley wrote to Tucker. "Whiny little self-righteous bitch. Appalling? And with such an ironic name, too…Spitalnick? Ironic because you just know she has extreme dick-fright; no chance has this girl ever had a pearl necklace. Spoogeneck? I don’t think so. More like LabiaFace."

Mama Carlson?

3. Arizona GOP State Senator just thinks church attendance should be mandatory. While taking part in her state's appropriations debate this week, GOP Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen made a modest proposal: “Probably we should be debating a bill requiring every American to attend the church of their choice.”

Probably, yeah.

Afterwards, reporters tried to get Allen to elaborate on that idea mashing up church and state. She scrambled away like a cornered animal. Then the next day, back on the state Senate floor, she doubled down, saying that she really did not understand why her suggestion that “America is in a need of a moral rebirth,” and that Americans be “legally required to go to church” was so controversial and “newsworthy.” Back in her day, people had morals and they prayed all the time, and she never even heard of heroin. And that is why not going to church should be against the law.

Let us pray.

The same towering intellect who truly believes the Earth is 6,000 years old...

4. Mark Levin: Barack Obama should take his seat right next to Hitler. On his show this week, rabid Conservative radio host Mark Levin initially wondered if he should really express what was in his heart. He wrestled with it, but not for long. Then he decided he just had to say it. It practically burst out of his mouth. “Barack Obama is the greatest threat that Jews face since the 1930’s.”

That’s it. That’s his position, and he’s sorry about having to say it. Wait, no he isn’t. He loved saying it. Barack Obama just loves “arming up this Islamonazis,” Levin said. No one loves Nazis, of any kind, more than the country’s first black president. Levin hastened to point out that he did not mean Obama threatens the Jews “in this country.” He meant the Jews in Israel. Although, he also thinks Obama is a terrible threat to this country, too. Practically goes without saying. So, in that sense, he's a threat to the Jews in this country, too.

And to everyone else."

Just couldn't make this stuff up...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Also known as the Cigar Galaxy for its elongated visual appearance, M82 is a starburst galaxy with a superwind. In fact, through ensuing supernova explosions and powerful winds from massive stars, the burst of star formation in M82 is driving the prodigious outflow of material. Evidence for the superwind from the galaxy's central regions is clear in this sharp composite image, based on data from small telescopes on planet Earth. 
 Click image for larger size.
The composite highlights emission from filaments of atomic hydrogen gas in reddish hues. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light-years. Some of the gas in the superwind, enriched in heavy elements forged in the massive stars, will eventually escape into intergalactic space. Triggered by a close encounter with nearby large galaxy M81, the furious burst of star formation in M82 should last about 100 million years or so. M82 is 12 million light-years distant, near the northern boundary of Ursa Major.”

"A Perpetual Illusion..."

"Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each knew what his friend said of him in his absence, although he then spoke in sincerity and without passion. Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart."
- Blaise Pascal

"The First Rule Of Life..."

"The first rule of life is to reveal nothing, to be exceptionally cautious in what you say, in whatever company you may find yourself. If you have a secret, you have only to whisper it to your dearest friend with the strictest injunction that it will go no further, and within half a day the story is all over town, and when you do make what would seem to be a perfectly sensible remark, you will find it reported in the most grotesque form, thus incurring no end of criticism to rebound upon you."
    - Elizabeth Aston

The Daily "Near You?"

Bolton, United Kingdom. Thanks for stopping by.

The Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "What If?"

"What If?"

"What if you slept?
And what if,
In your sleep
You dreamed?

And what if,
In your dream,
You went to heaven
And there plucked
A strange and
Beautiful flower?

And what if,
When you awoke,
You had the flower
In your hand?

... Ah, what then?"

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Chet Raymo, “The Silence”

“The Silence”
by Chet Raymo

“The hiding places of my power
Seem open; I approach, and then they close;
I see by glimpses now; when age comes on,
May scarcely see at all, and I would give,
While yet we may, as far as words can give,
A substance and a life to what I feel...”

"These few lines from Wordsworth's "The Prelude" leapt off the page at me this morning. They capture well enough what my life has become. All those years of teaching, of writing in the Boston Globe, were years of sharing public knowledge, knowledge that had been vetted by the scientific community. The work was not about me. The teacher was me, the writer was me, but what I taught and wrote was reliable, consensus knowledge of the world. A student in my classes or a reader of my newspaper columns would have been hard pressed to know my politics or my religion or the nature of the questions that came in the darkest hours of the night. And that is the way it should have been; that was my homage to objectivity.

Those were valuable years, years of building up a sturdy polder in the sea of mystery, a place to stand with a firmness of foot. And now, in retirement, with time on my hands- and on my mind- I find myself more inclined to explore what Wordsworth called "the hiding places of my power." I approach. They close. I touch with my hand the surface of the pond that Pat wrote about the other day; my hand comes out of the depths to meet me. I see by glimpses. It is, I suppose, a kind of forgetting. With the forgetting comes a certain freshness. My fingertip touches the surface of the world from above and from below, and concentric circles spread outwards, rippling, like a soundless sound, and I struggle, in words, as best I can, to give a substance and a life to what I feel.

This does not mean, I trust, that I am going soft, finding supernaturalist religion or getting all New Age squishy as "age comes on." I keep my feet planted on solid fact and read my weekly "Science" and "Nature" along with my Wordsworth. No, it is rather a simple freedom to explore the hiding places, attending to private particulars as opposed to public universals, listening for the small voice that whispers from the nooks and crannies of yet unassimilated reality.

There is a passage in "The Prelude" where a young Boy (the poet?), standing in evening air by the glimmering lake, makes a mimic hooting with his hands to his mouth and the owls answer. Twooo-twooo. And the reply. Twooo-twooo. Then, unaccountably, the answers cease. And in the silence the boy becomes more keenly aware than ever of water, rocks, and woods, and mountain torrents, "that uncertain heaven, received into the bosom of the steady lake." Thoreau has something similar. He rejoiced in owls; their hoot, he said, was a sound well suited to swamps and twilight woods. The interval between the hoots was a deepened silence, suggesting, to Thoreau, "a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized." It is that that I now attend: the deepened silence between the hoots.”

"Feeling Fed Up with Humanity, In the World and in Ourselves"

"Feeling Fed Up with Humanity, In the World and in Ourselves"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

"We are all capable of the best and the worst that humanity has to offer and knowing this allows us to find compassion. From time to time, we may all feel fed up with humanity, whether it’s from learning about what’s going on around the world, or what’s going on next door. There are always situations that leave us feeling as if people are simply not capable of behaving in a way that is coming from a place of awareness. Often it seems as if people are actually geared to handle things in the worst possible way, repeatedly. At the same time, none of us wants to linger in a judgmental mood about our own species. As a result, we might tend to repress the feelings coming up as we take in the news from the world and the neighborhood.

It is natural to feel let down and disappointed when we see our fellow humans behaving in ways that are greedy, selfish, violent, or uncaring, but there are also ways to process that disappointment without sinking into despondency. As with any emotional response, we honor our feelings by feeling them fully, without judging or acting on them. Once we’ve done that—and we may need to do it every day, as part of our daily self-care—we can begin to consider ways that we might help the situation in which humanity finds itself.

As always, we start with ourselves, utilizing our awareness of the failings of others to renew our own commitment to be more conscious human beings. We are all capable of the best and the worst that humanity has to offer, and remembering this keeps us in check, as well as allowing us to find compassion for others. We may find ourselves feeling compelled to serve people who are suffering injustices at the hands of other people, or we may begin to speak out when we see something that we don’t think is right. Whatever the case, the only thing we can do is pledge to serve the best, rather than the worst, of what humanity has to offer, both in the world, and in ourselves."

The Poet: Maya Angelou, "Good Morning"

"Here, on the pulse of this new day,
You may have the grace to look up and out,
And into your sister's eyes,
 and into your brother's face, your country,
 And say simply,
Very simply, 
 With hope -
Good morning." 

- Maya Angelou

"How It Really Is"

“Parasitic Derivatives - One Quadrillion Dollars: Too Big to Understand”

“Parasitic Derivatives - One Quadrillion Dollars: Too Big to Understand”
By David Hague

“I recently returned from two weeks of ‘high level’ meetings with a group of Bankers [this is code for two weeks of subsidized debauchery with bankers] in Rome. As I sat at my desk, I was hoping to motivate myself to pursue a more chaste and pure existence. Unfortunately the Polar Vortex experienced by North America drained me of my good intentions. The bone chilling cold once again had me reaching for my trusty bottle of Jack Daniels for warmth and inspiration. My time in Rome had not been completely ‘wasted’, so to speak. I had secured a contract from the European Central Bank [ECB] to research the topic of Derivatives. I was to present my findings at the upcoming World Economic Forum  in Davos later that month.

One Quadrillion Dollars: Too Big to Understand: Dear Reader, please resist your natural instinct to click away from this commentary at the mere mention of the word ‘Derivatives’. I am acutely aware of the boredom and befuddlement that this word instills in you. At this point I would simply remind you that the derivatives market is estimated to exceed one quadrillion dollars. [This stupidly large number is actually an accurate estimate of the size of the derivatives marketplace]. Despite the fact the derivatives market eclipses the market capitalization of the NYSE by an exponential factor, it is not discussed, reported or tracked because it is simply too complicated and opaque. Warren Buffet’s, comment about ‘weapons of mass financial destruction’ seem to be the beginning and end of any discussion on the topic.

Derivatives are a parasitic financial instrument: For those of you who are unschooled on the topic of derivatives, allow me to explain. Derivatives are abstract financial instruments, which, like parasites, can attach themselves to all manner of stocks, bonds, mortgages, commodity, debt obligations, currency exchange, interest rate fluctuations…in short, anything. Derivatives exist in the ‘twilight zone’ of the banking industry. Like black holes, their presence and massive influence are acknowledged yet the true influence on the global economy of this quadrillion dollar ‘event horizon’ is only theoretical. The near catastrophic disasters at Barings, JP Morgan and AIG are small examples of their destructive powers. However I will offer you Investorpedia’s more clinical definition. “A security whose price is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is merely a contract between two or more parties.” 

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, {Kenny Rogers}: One might think of derivatives as a random game of online poker, you don’t know who your opponents are [your counterparty], you do not know if you will be paid [counterparty risk], you do not know if the game is legitimate, [lack of regulation], and your opponents are probably able to see what cards you are holding, [market domination by large banks]. As well, you are making bets that in many instances neither you nor your opponents fully grasp [complexity of the market]. With each wager you are potentially risking not only your current assets, but your future assets as well. [Leverage]. In some cases you do not know how much you are betting. Imagine as well, that you play this game every day with trillions of dollars that you do not have. This is the global derivatives market.

It is all Greek to me: Alternately, as derivatives are often created as a form of insurance, think of them as an insurance policy in which you:

- Do not know the name, address or any contact information relating to your insurer.
- Do not know if your insurer has the resources to pay a claim.
- Do not understand the insurance contract as it is written in Greek.
- Must rely on a shadowy third party [ISDA]  to decide what constitutes a claim. [Credit event]
- Do not know whether your insurer is itself vulnerable to the particular risk you have contracted with it to insure.

His moral lassitude allowed him to excel: Dear Reader, I digress, let me return to my narrative. The aforementioned lucrative contract was secured by two key factors. The first factor was my friendship with Gustavo Laframboise-Pierre, the European Central Bank’s [ECB] Global Director of Statistical Creation. My relationship with such an esteemed member of the ECB traced its roots back to Gustavo’s days as a bookie for Wall Street’s elite. I referred so much business to him we became very good friends. His station in life took a remarkable turn when a senior member of the ECB, while in New York on a ‘fact finding mission’ [this is code for visiting his favorite escort] made an outrageously large and incorrect wager on the outcome of the 2010 World Cup. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the term ‘derivative’ is commonly used in sports betting!) The only way the debt could be settled was for the banker to offer Gustavo a highly paid sinecure at the ECB. Gustavo became the Global Director of Statistical Creation with the responsibility of making up statistics to support whatever fantastical and deranged policies Central Banks around the world were initiating. Remarkably Gustavo’s aptitude for numbers, coupled with his moral lassitude allowed him to excel at his job. It was Gustavo who invented the term ‘Quantitative Easing’ as a benign euphemism for runaway money printing.

Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise’: The second factor that secured the contract for me was a chance remark I made as Gustavo and I enjoyed a ‘working lunch’, with several senior executives who represented many of the world’s largest banks. The working lunch was held at Rome’s exclusive Blue Moon Gentleman’s Club. As the featured dancer left the stage I happened to mention to the assorted luminaries that I had read an article on the subject of derivatives. The bankers looked at me with something akin to awe and reverence. Gustavo whispered to me that the topic of derivatives had been discussed in a recent conference call by the world’s bankers. The conclusion reached at that time was that derivatives were too boring and too complicated for bankers to grasp. Despite JP Morgan’s very public, expensive and monumentally stupid 5 billon dollar derivatives trading loss bankers still choose to remain cocooned in a ‘Cloak of Ignorance’ as it relates to derivatives. Thomas Gray’s lament that where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise could easily be the mission statement of the global banking industry.

I had read a complete article, I was a ‘de facto expert’: Dear reader, I am not being rude and offensive in my remarks about JP Morgan. Surely you would agree with me that any large bank that loses $5 billion in derivatives trading is ignorant of the properties and risks of derivatives?  The fact that I had actually read a complete article on the subject made me a de facto expert on the topic. Gustavo, in an act of kindness, seized the opportunity on my behalf and pressed his colleagues to retain me to research the topic and make a presentation at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos. Thus I found myself preparing to dazzle the world’s financial elite with my insights into the risks and opportunities presented by the global derivatives market.  In a rush to complete the deal before the next dancer took the stage it was agreed that I would receive the standard banker’s honorarium of $5,000/hour up to a maximum of ‘whatever it takes’.

At $5,000/hr., you would surely not expect me to be brief: I sat at my desk, sipping ‘Gentleman Jack‘ while I looked out at the bleak weather that made Brooklyn so depressing in the winter. My TV was tuned to CNBC, as I waited for Wall Street to open. I put my crack pipe in its case. Dear reader like many of you [especially those of you who work in the banking industry], I have learned all too well, the dangers of mixing crack cocaine with whiskey on an empty stomach. [Have we not all indulged, to our regret, that particular venial sin  at least once?] I collected my thoughts and began to write my lengthy tome on the derivatives market. Dear reader at $5,000/hr., you would surely not expect me to be brief.

Lions and Tigers and Bears [and derivatives] Oh My!: I do not want to frighten you. However I will share with you some facts about derivatives that will have you reacting as nervously as Dorothy did in the Wizard of OZ when confronted with the thought of Lions and Tigers and Bears. ‘Derivatives, Oh My’, will I suspect be the words that escape your lips.

Size of the derivatives market: 1 Quadrillion dollars
Size of Global Stock and bond markets:  175 trillion dollars
Who regulates the Derivatives market? LOL, Regulation is a ‘work in progress’ dominated by the big banks.

How dangerous are derivatives? They almost destroyed the world’s largest insurance company, AIG, as well as the global economy. Seriously, you don’t remember? Just Google the words AIG and collapse. Alternately you might call Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan  and ask him if Derivatives are dangerous. Have recent regulatory changes made the world economy less likely to implode from a derivative fuelled explosion? Actually as one might expect, thanks to regulatory enhancements that had to run the gauntlet of bank lobbyists prior to their approval, the world’s economy is in more danger than ever from a derivatives inspired meltdown.

‘Duck Dynasty’ and ‘Real Housewives’ to the rescue: How much attention does the Main Street pay to the world’s largest and riskiest casino? [AKA: the Derivatives market]. If one were to Google the word derivatives, one will get 34 million ‘hits’. Alternately, if one does a similar search for the words stocks bonds and markets one will get 400 million ‘hits’. The 34 million ‘hits’ generated by a Google search of the word derivatives compares unfavorably with the 37 million ‘hits’ generated by a search of the term ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’, the 209 million ‘hits’ generated by a search of the term ‘Duck Dynasty’ or the 713 million ‘hits’ generated by searching the word ‘Sex’. One must conclude that only when derivatives are discussed by one of the ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ posing nude in bed with one of the cast members of ‘Duck Dynasty’ will derivatives receive the attention they deserve.

Reality bites: Derivatives can only be discussed as ‘Fake News’: Where can one find insights and coverage of the Derivatives Market in the mainstream media? Is Fox News or CNN my best choice? Sadly Dear reader your best choice would be The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Despite the calamitous risk and obvious importance of this topic only Mr. Stewart and his team have dared to share information with the general public. Given the outlandish and frightening risks derivatives constitute to the Global Economy, perhaps Mr. Stewart is correct that it can only be discussed in the ‘Fake News’ format.

Derivatives: better suited for Ripley’s Believe it or not than the Wall Street Journal: How bizarre is the derivatives market? How is the concept of money for nothing propagated by the derivatives market? What is the difference between a chump and a champion in the derivatives market? I will leave it to Shah Gilani in his excellent post in Wall Street: Insights and Indictments  to explain. Suffice to say that one is able to buy insurance in the derivatives market. One can then cause the insured event to occur by collaborating with a third party. All that remains is to collect the insurance proceeds. [To be clear the proceeds are usually in the tens of millions of dollars.] The derivatives market makes the Ponzi-like money printing of the Central banks look like ‘Amateur Hour’.

Who needs ‘Crack’? Dear reader, usually I needed a little help from my friend Mr. Crack to feel as paranoid and euphoric as I did at this moment. Paranoid, because it was clear to me that the derivatives market was truly a weapon of mass financial destruction. Euphoric because I knew that my research would make my ‘Derivatives’ presentation at the World Economic Forum a  groundbreaking ‘tour de force’ that would vault me to the forefront of ‘talking heads’ that pass for experts on mainstream media. Fame, fortune, a book deal and perhaps that elusive Nobel Prize would surely follow. My twenty minutes of painstaking research, had made me one of the world’s foremost experts on this complex subject. [BTW Dear Reader by reaching this point in my commentary, you surely now know more about derivatives than most bankers and traders on Wall Street. You should be quite pleased.]

David, you are an imbecile: I decided to reach out to my pal Gustavo and share some of my findings. I knew that it was 3:30 in the afternoon in Paris so I would be able to catch Gustavo just as he arrived for another day of work. “Gustavo”, I intoned, breathless with excitement. “I have uncovered some startling, controversial, and frightening information about derivatives. The luminaries and leading lights who attend my presentation in Davos will be utterly gobsmacked  by my revelations. The media will undoubtedly ensure that my findings go viral. The topic of derivatives will no longer exist only in the dark shadows of the banking industry. The danger that derivatives pose to the global economy will permeate the consciousness of Main Street.”. Gustavo sighed, “David, I do not know if you are stupid or naïve. Every September when you bet $1,000 that the perennially atrocious Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup, I assumed you were simply ingenuous. Your comments today have convinced me that you are an imbecile. Let me assure you that those will not be the findings that you present at the World Economic Forum. Rather you will inform the world that derivatives are a financial instrument that is being used by brilliant and prudent financial professionals to mitigate risk and make the world a safer place.”

The ‘Truth Will Out’: “Gustavo”, I groaned, "that would be a lie. I cannot in good conscience, sacrifice my integrity, my honor, my core beliefs and my good name simply to placate Wall Street and the Central Banks. I have a responsibility to my readers on Main Street to inform them, to warn them, to prepare them for the likely financial chaos that derivatives will cause”. “Gustavo”, I said with iron willed determination, “the Truth Will Out”. “David”, Gustavo snarled, “If you change the tenor of your presentation and indicate that derivatives are the most benign form of financial instrument, somewhat akin to Treasury bills, we will double your fee”.

Move along nothing to see here: Dear Reader, in summary let me say that derivatives are the most benign form of financial instrument, somewhat akin to treasury bills. Gustavo’s immutable logic and persuasive argument was instrumental in helping me reach the correct conclusion regarding the risks to the Global economy posed by derivatives. So Dear Reader, move along, there is nothing to see here."