Friday, March 6, 2015

"How It Really Is"

Satire: “Joe Biden Releases Both E-mails Written While Vice-President”

“Joe Biden Releases Both E-mails Written While Vice-President”
by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — "In what could be a prelude to a Presidential run in 2016, on Friday Joe Biden released to the public both e-mails that he has written while serving as Vice-President for the past six years. Biden took pride in announcing that he had sent both messages from his official government e-mail address, adding, “I have nothing to hide.”

Minutes after the e-mails were released, the media pored over the treasure trove of materials, which offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into Biden’s tenure as Vice-President. The first e-mail, written to President Obama in December of 2009, asks about the time and place of the White House holiday party. The second and last e-mail, written in May of last year, asks the President, “Is our Internet slow today? I’m trying to watch something,” followed by a frowny-face emoticon. According to Biden’s records, the President did not respond to either e-mail.”

The Economy: “US Stocks Could Fall 50% from Here”

“US Stocks Could Fall 50% from Here”
by Bill Bonner

Gualfin, Argentina - “Today, we’re going to revisit yesterday’s subject – something so surprising and counterintuitive that almost no one expects it or is prepared for it. We’re talking about a sudden disappearance of dollars. For a brief time – perhaps three days… maybe three months – Americans will wonder what happened to their money. The greenback will become more precious than gold… perhaps even a matter of life and death. 

We remind readers that we live in such a topsy-turvy financial world that it is hard to tell up from down and backward from forward. Central banks and central governments issue more and more debt. But the price of debt goes up… so that the yield on $2 trillion of developed-world sovereign debt is now negative! In other words, lenders pay borrowers to take their money. Go figure. 

Meanwhile, the world economy is slowing. US corporate profits are falling. And US stock prices are so high relative to the earnings they produce that it would take a miracle to give investors a decent rate of return over the next 10 years. 

Former Value Line equity analyst, and our go-to guy on stock market valuations, Stephen Jones tells us that the rate of US stock market gains is slowing. There aren’t many examples from the past, says Stephen, but they suggest that gains will go lower and lower, until they become negative: “On October 3, when I last wrote the note, stocks were up 17.2% from one year earlier. Today, March 5, stocks are up 12.2% from a year earlier. Forecasts are always tough, and there is not a lot of precedence at these high valuation levels. But this slowdown appears likely to continue, and thus position us with 0% year-over-year returns sometime over the coming year. Again, precedents are few, but they have resulted in roughly 50% market declines.”

A Monetary Shock: Whether that 50% collapse happens next week or five years from now, we don’t know. But when it happens it is likely to set in motion an alarming series of events that will lead to a temporary, but violent, monetary shock... 

People will go to their banks to get cash. But the banks won’t have any cash. The ATMs will run dry. There will be a “run on the banks,” to use the old-fashioned term. People will line up, desperate to get cash. Not because they fear the bank will fail… but because they need cash to pay for the necessities. 

“Wait a minute,” says French colleague Simone Wapler (or words to that effect). “Governments are already trying to stop people from using cash. In France, transactions of more than €3,000 [$3,292] in cash are forbidden.” 

In the US, too, cash is suspect. Ask your bank for “too much” cash… and the bank is obliged to report you to the feds. And if the police stop you and find a lot of cash, they are likely to confiscate it. “You must be doing something illegal,” they’ll say. (In fact, the Justice Department recently revealed that US police departments seized more than $6 million from citizens in roadside stops in the recent fiscal year – despite not pursuing any criminal charges against their “suspects.” It's all part of the Justice Department’s “Civil Asset Forfeiture” program.) 

So, what would cause cash to come back into style… suddenly and overwhelmingly? What would cause a panic into dollars? Stay tuned…”

"The Last Whale"

 "As I rocked in the moonlight,
And reefed the sail.
It'll happen to you
Also without fail,
If it happens to me.
Sang the world's last whale."
- Pete Seeger
David Crosby And Graham Nash, “To The Last Whale”

"Maybe we'll go, maybe we'll disappear...
It's not that we don't know,
It's just that we don't want to care."

Fukushima: “US Gov’t: Radioactive Material From Reactors Is 2 Billion Times More Toxic Than Industrial Poisons”

“US Gov’t: Radioactive Material From Reactors Is 
2 Billion Times More Toxic Than Industrial Poisons”
Harm caused by nuclear disaster “greater than for any work of man” other than atomic bomb; Top Expert: Radiation “like explosions going off in cell… blows hole in DNA” 
By ENENews 

19:45 – “There are some unique things about ionizing radiation when it comes to the interaction with biological systems. Energy is deposited ubiquitously in cells and in tissues in little packets of energy. These are like many explosions going off in the cell. If you can think of these little explosions going off all over a cell, if it happens to take place in DNA, there’s really quite a high chance this will blow a hole in the DNA. Ionizing radiation is a very powerful cytotoxic agent. You get these lesions which are formed within DNA which are really quite complex lesions. We’re talking 0.0000000000000001 seconds for the ionization to take place. Cell cycle arrest, cell death by apoptosis or mitotic catastrophe take place very rapidly after exposure.”
37:30 – “What’s happening following ionizing radiation? You get these little explosions going off very rapidly, but mitochondria get hit as well. With time, you actually get these mitochondria leaking more free radicals than the ionizing radiation, by orders of magnitude. This concept is one which is growing very strongly in radiation biology now. The effects are not all over in 24 hours, you initiate a cascade of biological responses which can go on for a long period of time, even years.”
46:00 – “You get long-term immune dysfunction. If you inject flu virus into mice it will eventually kill the irradiated animals; in normal animals this isn’t the case. So the immune system is compromised for long periods of time after radiation exposure.”
51:00 – “The concept is that we’re generating damage which is cascading forward to mitochondria and other cellular structures, in addition to DNA. Radiation is not just a powerful cytotoxin, it initiates signaling cascades that are taking place against a radiation damage background. Radiation damage is often remembered within the cells. We’ve shown, at least in brain and lung and other tissues, you get these kind of pro-inflammatory responses. This is underlying a lot of effects in radiation exposure.”
52:00 (appears to be on verge of crying) – “At UCLA we have over 100 people who are in our center. They’re interested in radiation now — they never were before. I think that we’re kind of moving animal models slowly forward to things which are really kind of very precise and very accurate and I think do reflect a lot of things that we will see in humans who’ve been exposed to radiation.”
Watch McBride’s presentation here 

U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (pdf), 1968: "The total amount of debris released during routine atomic processes and conceived as possible from accidents is minuscule when compared with the amount of pollutants produced throughout the world by combustion. The extraordinarily poisonous nature of the radioactive materials involved, however, dictates that even small quantities be treated with respect. For instance, it has been estimated that some of the radioactive materials found in a reactor are 3 million to 2 billion times as toxic as chlorine, the most common poison used by industry.  If it were possible for all the many controls and safety features in a large power reactor to fail so as to produce a disastrous release of radioactivity, this release could conceivably kill thousands. Although, in actual practice, such an accident is made to have a vanishingly small probability of occurring, the theoretical potential for such an accident is probably greater than for any work of man other than the explosion of a fission or fusion weapon.”

NOAA, Feb 18, 2015 (pdf): “We are seeing an unusually large increase of California sea lion pups stranding that's intensified over the last few weeks. it is very difficult to pinpoint what is causing the increase. There are warmer waters than usual, but an official El Nino has not yet been declared. We are preparing for the worst. Health trends of marine mammals inform us about the health of the entire ecosystem. If the stranding numbers exceed the 2013 UME facilities will be unable to accept more animals. Animals may be left on the beach or humanely euthanized.”

Malibu Surfside News, Mar 3, 2015: “The number of animals that can be rescued and rehabilitated is very small compared to the total number of pups in distress. In 2013, Federal officials estimated that 70 percent of the total number [~35,000 out of 50,000 newborns] may have died and experts say that the numbers may be even higher this year.”

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, "Teach Me to Whisper"

Liquid Mind, "Teach Me to Whisper"

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Star clusters are among the most visually alluring and astrophysically fascinating objects in the sky. One of the most spectacular nestles deep in the southern skies near the Southern Cross in the constellation of Crux. The Kappa Crucis Cluster, also known as NGC 4755 or simply the "Jewel Box" is just bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye. It was given its nickname by the English astronomer John Herschel in the 1830s because the striking color contrasts of its pale blue and orange stars seen through a telescope reminded Herschel of a piece of exotic jewelry.
IMAGE: The FORS1 instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at 
ESO's Paranal Observatory was used to take this exquisitely sharp close
 up view of the colorful Jewel Box cluster.

Open clusters such as NGC 4755 typically contain anything from a few to thousands of stars that are loosely bound together by gravity. Because the stars all formed together from the same cloud of gas and dust their ages and chemical makeup are similar, which makes them ideal laboratories for studying how stars evolve. The position of the cluster amongst the rich star fields and dust clouds of the southern Milky Way is shown in the very wide field view generated from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 data. This image also includes one of the stars of the Southern Cross as well as part of the huge dark cloud of the Coal Sack.

The Jewel Box may be visually colorful in images taken on Earth, but observing from space allows the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to capture light of shorter wavelengths than can not be seen by telescopes on the ground. This new Hubble image of the core of the cluster represents the first comprehensive far ultraviolet to near-infrared image of an open galactic cluster. It was created from images taken through seven filters, allowing viewers to see details never seen before. It was taken near the end of the long life of the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, Hubble's workhorse camera up until the recent Servicing Mission, when it was removed and brought back to Earth. Several very bright, pale blue supergiant stars, a solitary ruby-red supergiant and a variety of other brilliantly colored stars are visible in the Hubble image, as well as many much fainter ones. The intriguing colors of many of the stars result from their differing intensities at different ultraviolet wavelengths.

The huge variety in brightness of the stars in the cluster exists because the brighter stars are 15 to 20 times the mass of the Sun, while the dimmest stars in the Hubble image are less than half the mass of the Sun. More massive stars shine much more brilliantly. They also age faster and make the transition to giant stars much more quickly than their faint, less-massive siblings. The Jewel Box cluster is about 6400 light-years away and is approximately 16 million years old."

Chet Raymo, “Seeing”

by Chet Raymo

“Elizabeth Bishop has a poem about a sandpiper, a tiny shore bird scurrying forward and reverse with the lick and ebb of the tide. It was not the sandpiper I thought of today as I walked the beach, but the sand with which the Bishop's bird is seemingly obsessed. The last two lines of the poem:

    "The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
    mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst."

Everyone sees the sandpiper. Who could not? Those fluttering feet. The delicate engine of its controlled frenzy. But who sees what the sandpiper sees, the grains of sand between its toes? The poet, that's who. It is the poet's ability to see the world in a grain of sand– black, white, tan, and gray- that is her gift. And more! Rose and amethyst. And I mean "gift" in two senses. The gift of her talent (who was the giver? nature? nurture?).  And her gift to us of the poem.

I want to have that gift, in both senses. The second sense is easy enough: I need only read. The poem is there, in black and white. The first sense is more problematic. How does one learn to see, to see not only the obvious, but also the obscure. The subtle. The ephemeral. The dim. Is it a gift you are born with, or a practice to be learned? To see the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour?"

   " The world is a mist. And then the world is
    Minute and vast and clear…”
by Elizabeth Bishop

“The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.”

"Passive Acceptance..."

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. 
He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
 - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Read It and Weep"

"Read It and Weep"
by The Johnsville News 
"And people ask why newspapers are going out of business."
Oh, you mean besides the fact that most Americans are functionally illiterate? "Only 13% of U.S. adults have English reading and comprehension skills considered to be proficient."
- CP

The Daily "Near You?"

Edmond, Oklahoma, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

The Poet: Tom Disch, "What to Accept"

"What to Accept"
by Tom Disch

"The fact of mountains. The actuality
Of any stone - by kicking, if necessary.
The need to ignore stupid people,
While restraining one's natural impulse
To murder them. The change from your dollar,
Be it no more than a penny,
For without a pretense of universal penury
There can be no honor between rich and poor.
Love, unconditionally, or until proven false.
The inevitability of cancer and/or
Heart disease. The dialogue as written,
Once you've taken the role. Failure,
Gracefully. Any hospitality
You're willing to return. The air
Each city offers you to breathe.
The latest hit. Assistance.
All accidents. The end."

"You Are the One You Are Waiting for: Turn to Yourself"

"You Are the One You Are Waiting for: Turn to Yourself"
by The DailyOM

"Ultimately, you are the one. We spend a lot of our lives looking for role models, mentors, teachers, and gurus to guide us on our path. There is nothing wrong with this and, in fact, finding the right person at the right time can really help. However, it is important to realize that in the absence of such a figure, we can very safely rely upon ourselves. We carry within us everything we need to know to make progress on our paths to self-realization. The outer world serves as a mirror. Or to use another metaphor, our inner world has a magnetic force that draws to us what we need to evolve to the next level. All we need to do to see that we already have everything we need is to let go of our belief that we need to seek in order to find.

The path of the spirit is often defined as a journey with a goal such as the fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In this metaphor, a person begins a search for something they want but do not have and then they find it, and there is a happy ending. However, most of us know that getting what we want only makes us happy for a moment, and then the happiness passes until a new object of desire presents itself. Joy is a permanent aspect of our inner selves and is not separate from us at any point. We do not have to travel to find it or imagine that it resides only in the body of another. In fact, what the best teachers will do is point out that this very precious elixir is something we already possess.

So when we find ourselves on our path, not knowing which way to turn and wishing for guidance, we can turn to ourselves. We may not know the right answer rationally or intellectually, but if we simply ask, let go, and wait patiently, an answer will come. The more we practice this and trust this process, the less we will look outside ourselves for teachers and guides for we will have successfully become our own."


 Click image for larger size.

"When dealing with the insane,
the best method is to pretend to be sane."
- Hermann Hesse

Click image for larger size, which you may then 
fill in and frame if you're so inclined, as I did... lol
 - CP

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"How It Really Is"

The Economy: "Get Ready for a “Zero Returns” World"

"Get Ready for a 'Zero Returns' World"
by Bill Bonner

Gualfin, Argentina - “Where is that old and tattered “Crash Alert” flag? Many times since the start of the rally in US stocks in 2009, we hoisted it. And many times has it failed to give us a useful signal. But we will bring it out again, if a bit sheepishly… and let it wave, in the warm Argentine air. 

Why? Do we know a crash is coming? No, of course not. Is our flag a good indicator of what will happen? Apparently not. But we regard it like the “Shark Alert” flags you see on the beaches of Australia. (Down Under is the only country in the world to have a chief of state who was eaten by a shark.) The “Shark Alert” flag doesn’t mean you can’t go swimming. It means if a shark takes a bite out of you, it’s your own damned fault.

Nutty Valuations: Why are we raising the flag again now? Economist and fund manager John Hussman, of Hussman Funds, explains: "Last week, the CAPE ratio of the SP 500 Index surpassed 27, versus a historical norm of just 15 prior to the late-1990s market bubble. [The CAPE ratio – also known as the Shiller P/E ratio – looks at inflation-adjusted earnings over a 10-year period to control for cyclicality in earnings.] The S&P 500 price-revenue ratio surpassed 1.8, versus a pre-bubble norm of just 0.8. On a wide range of historically reliable measures (having a nearly 90% correlation with actual subsequent S&P 500 total returns), we estimate current valuations to be fully 118% above levels associated with historically normal subsequent returns in stocks. 

Advisory bullishness (Investors Intelligence) shot to 59.5%, compared with only 14.1% bears – one of the most lopsided sentiment extremes on record. The S&P 500 registered a record high after an advancing half-cycle since 2009 that is historically long-in-the-tooth and already exceeds the valuation peaks set at every cyclical extreme in history but 2000 on the S&P 500 (across all stocks, current median price-earnings, price-revenue and enterprise value-EBITDA multiples already exceed the 2000 extreme)."

The water is full of sharks, in other words. And that’s why this is the best time to get out of the market in the next eight years, says Hussman. Over that time, he says, the likely return from a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds is zero. So nutty are US stock market valuations (in light of the economic situation) that SocGen equity strategist Albert Edwards is afraid he may be going bonkers too: "We are at that stage in the cycle where I begin to doubt my own sanity. I’ve been here before though and know full well how this story ends and it doesn’t involve me being detained in a mental health establishment (usually)." 

The downturn in US profits is accelerating. And it is not just an energy or US dollar phenomenon – a broad swathe of US economic data has disappointed in February. One of the positive surprises, payrolls, is a lagging indicator. The $64,000 question is not if, but rather when will investors realize what is going on?”

Out of the Box: Yesterday, we looked at something so counterintuitive… so contrarian… and so out of the box that many readers thought the craziness must have gotten to us. They urged us to get back into the box as soon as possible. But one of the advantages of being in Argentina, so cut off from civilization, is that we can’t find the box. We are largely out of touch with the news and cut off from popular opinion. 

On a typical day, we rise at 7 a.m., chat with the farm manager, eat breakfast outside in the sunny courtyard… and settle into our work. We read a few headlines and stories on our computer. (Yes, we have solar power and a satellite Internet connection.) Then we read more… and answer correspondence. We have lunch. We read some more and we sit down to write. 

Then when we are tired of sitting, at 5 p.m., we saddle up a horse and go for a ride. The ride usually takes a couple of hours – simply because it takes so long to get anywhere. Yesterday, we rode up the riverbed toward the old stone mill. A sluice brought water down from an irrigation canal and used it to turn a stone-grinding wheel. We’ve spent time studying its primitive technology. And we pray civilization will not collapse: We don’t think we could ever figure out how to make it work again. 

The ride was gloriously beautiful – through huge clumps of pampas grass, across the marshes, up the side of the hill, along a stone wall that led to the mill. A few white puffs of clouds flew across an otherwise pure blue sky; yellow flowers covered the hillsides.

Why the Rich Get Richer: Having cleared our head, we returned to our thoughts… Lately, we have been thinking about how we – and almost everyone else – misjudged the potential inflationary effects of central bank policies (ZIRP and QE). As we mentioned yesterday, central banks are not really “printing money.” Nor are they really stimulating the economy. Instead, they are putting credit on sale. Yesterday, we provided some detail on how US corporations are using this cheap credit to buy back their own shares. 

February set a new record for share buybacks. US corporations spent a staggering $5 billion a day on their own shares. That brings the tally to $2 trillion since the bottom in US stocks in 2009 – or about 10% of the total value of the S&P 500. This is the effect of cheap credit: It gooses up asset prices. It encourages speculation and quick-buck gambling. It does not raise consumer prices or help the real economy. Instead, the rich get richer – because assets go up in price. And the poor get poorer – because real investment, the kind that produces jobs and incomes, goes down. Curiously, even former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, now at liberty to speak the truth, said so. 

“The single biggest problem in our economy,” according to Greenspan, “is a lack of real capital investment.”

Cash Will Be King: Instead of the kind of patient, sensible, capital investment that we would see in a genuine boom, the Fed’s EZ money policies encourage bubbles. Hussman: "When investor preferences are risk seeking, overly loose monetary policy can have a disastrous effect by promoting reckless speculation and enhancing the ability of low-quality borrowers to issue debt to yield-starved investors. This encourages malinvestment and financial distortions that then collapse, as we saw following the tech and housing bubbles. Those seeds have now been sown for the third time in 15 years."

All bubbles burst. They burst whether the Fed is raising rates or lowering them. And all bubbles burst in a way that destroys credit but raises up the value of cash. 

This is the curious phenomenon that almost nobody but us sees coming… The Fed pumps up the monetary base – made up of commercial banks’ reserve accounts at the Fed plus physical currency circulating in the economy – to about $4 trillion. But instead of a falling dollar, the greenback becomes so valuable that people cannot live without it. Cash will be king. Emperor. Rock star. And Oscar winner. Briefly… 

Stay tuned… we’re getting somewhere important…"

Greg Hunter, “World Headed for a Meat Grinder- Rob Kirby”

“World Headed for a Meat Grinder- Rob Kirby”
By Greg Hunter’s

“Rob Kirby gives what he calls “proprietary macroeconomic research” to people around the world with billions of dollars to manage. What are his connected sources telling him?  Kirby says, “People whose opinions I respect the most tell me that the world is headed for a meat grinder, and that is putting very bluntly. This does not make me happy to say this, but we are headed for some very, very difficult times. The people that are in charge of and are maintaining the status quo of dishonest commerce in our world today are extremely committed to the program. I have referenced them before; they are the globalists. These people have contempt for humanity. These people, as a group, believe the world’s population needs to be reduced from its current roughly 7 billion to around 500 million people. They refer to that as a sustainable model for the earth going forward. I don’t share that view... but this is the path they have decided to take us down.”

On the wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, Kirby says, “The whole talk about Israel and Iran is a side show. What is going on in Ukraine, I view to be another side show. The underlying root problem is that our financial system is failing, and history tells us when the financial system tanks, governments take us to war. That’s why we are on a war footing, and that’s why we are hearing this rhetoric and inflamed talks about how we need war, and war is imminent and how war is going to be unavoidable. It’s an age old thing, when the financial system craps, the elites take us to war. End of story.”

It is looking like a much wider war breaks out this year. Kirby contends, “The reason for that is the financial system is showing signs of severe stress and severe weakness. The money printing around the world has accelerated and gone into a warp drive or warp speed of money and credit creation. We got the European Central bank talking about their own QE program. We’ve got Japan printing money like blazes. And listen, I think it was David Stockman that said there was over 2 trillion dollars of sovereign debt in the euro system trading at negative interest rates. This is not sustainable. This is why we have the burners turned up in the march to war. The system is showing severe signs of systemic stress. You can’t have 2 trillion dollars of sovereign trading at negative interest rates for a long time and have it be sustainable.”

Kirby goes on to say, “It all boils back to the money. And it all boils back to the notion we don’t have honest money because when you have honest money, these excesses don’t occur. Things cleanse themselves, and that is the virtue and the merit of the old relic, the gold standard, because it is honest commerce. When you have honest commerce, generally people are peaceful and get along with each other on a fair basis. Equal value for equal value for exchange of goods, not one country with the God given right to print money to buy the world’s output  with freshly created out of thin air fiat money. It’s dishonest commerce. Dishonest commerce is at the root of all the problems we are facing in the world.”

So, what do we get first, war or collapse? Kirby predicts, “My gut tells me they are going to incite or create the basis for a war, and then, they will blame the crackup on the war. You look at the math that is involved with fiat money and compounding interest. The life cycle of that system shows that money is created in its early life that is slow and gradual upward to the right. At some point, it inflects and it grows vertically.  We are on the vertical part of the curve now. Things that go straight up are not sustainable. What we will experience at some point, and I believe this is a mathematical certainty, we will have a crackup–boom. There will be a hyperinflation, and that outcome is guaranteed. It’s a sealed fate.”
"Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with Rob Kirby of"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, “Night Light”

Liquid Mind, “Night Light” 

The Poet: Mary Oliver, “I Worried”

“I Worried”
by Mary Oliver

“ I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“It looks like a lunar landscape but this remarkable photograph actually shows our Milky Way and the planet Jupiter in all their glory - viewed from a cave in America's Utah desert. The spiral galaxy, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, was captured by photographer Wally Pacholka using a 35mm camera and 50mm lens on a tripod with a 30-second exposure - long enough to collect the light but not to see the stars moving.
Click image for larger size.
Pacholka, 59, an architect from Long Beach, California, relied on the light of a crescent moon to illuminate the subject and chose the area because of the near-absence of ambient light. He said: 'I had to drive 800 miles each way five times to get the shot right. And I had to hike two miles to the cave and back again at night, getting lost each time I came out.' His photo shows the Milky Way - estimated to be 100,000 light years in diameter and 1,000 light years deep - and Jupiter (to the top left), the biggest planet in the solar system with a diameter 11 times that of Earth's. After Venus, Jupiter is the second-brightest planet despite being about 390 million miles from Earth. The cave, which has been carved out of the desert's red sandstone rock, lies to the south-east of Salt Lake City and is estimated to be 300 million years old. The area is rich with Native American ruins.”

"Do You Remember?"

"Do you remember still the falling stars
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes- do you recall?
And we did make so many!
For there were countless numbers of stars:
each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
knowing somehow we had survived their fall."
- Rainer Maria Rilke

"No, We Can't Have It All"

"No, We Can't Have It All"

"We all face choices. We can have ice caps and polar bears, or we can have automobiles. We can have dams or we can have salmon. We can have irrigated wine from Mendocino and Sonoma counties, or we can have the Russian and Eel Rivers. We can have oil from beneath the oceans, or we can have whales. We can have cardboard boxes or we can have living forests. We can have computers and cancer clusters from the manufacture of those computers, or we can have neither. We can have electricity and a world devastated by mining, or we can have neither (and don't give me any nonsense about solar: you'll need copper for wiring, silicon for photovoltaics, metals and plastics for appliances, which need to be manufactured and then transported to your home, and so on. Even solar electrical energy can never be sustainable because electricity and all its accoutrements require an industrial infrastructure).

We can have fruits, vegetables, and coffee brought to the U.S. from Latin America, or we can have at least somewhat intact human and nonhuman communities throughout that region. (I don't think I need to remind readers that, to take one not atypical example among far too many, the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala was overthrown by the United States to support the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, leading to thirty years of U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads. Also, a few years ago I asked a member of the revolutionary tupacamaristas what they wanted for the people of Peru, and he said something that cuts to the heart of the current discussion [and to the heart of every struggle that has ever taken place against civilization]: "We need to produce and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so.") We can have international trade, inevitably and by definition as well as by function dominated by distant and huge economic/governmental entities which do not (and cannot) act in the best interest of communities, or we can have local control of local economies, which cannot happen so long as cities require the importation (read: theft) of resources from ever-greater distances. We can have civilization - too often called the highest form of social organization - that spreads (I would say metastasizes) to all parts of the globe, or we can have a multiplicity of autonomous cultures each uniquely adapted to the land from which it springs. We can have cities and all they imply, or we can have a livable planet. We can have "progress" and history, or we can have sustainability. We can have civilization, or we can have at least the possibility of a way of life not based on the violent theft of resources.

This is in no way abstract. It is physical. In a finite world, the forced and routine importation of resources is unsustainable. Duh. Show me how car culture can coexist with wild nature, and more specifically, show me how anthropogenic global warming can coexist with ice caps and polar bears. And any fixes such as solar electric cars would present problems at least equally severe. For example, the electricity still needs to be generated, batteries are extraordinarily toxic, and in any case, driving is not the main way a car pollutes: far more pollution is emitted through its manufacture than through its exhaust pipe. We can perform the same exercise for any product of industrial civilization.

We can't have it all. The belief that we can is one of the things that has driven us to this awful place. If insanity could be defined as having lost functional connection with physical reality, to believe we can have it all - to believe we can simultaneously dismantle a world and live on it; to believe we can perpetually use more energy than arrives from the sun; to believe we can take more than the world gives willingly; to believe a finite world can support infinite growth,much less infinite economic growth, where economic growth consists of converting ever larger numbers of living beings to dead objects (industrial production, at core, is the conversion of the living - trees or mountains - into the dead - two-by-fours and beer cans) - is grotesquely insane. This insanity manifests partly as a potent disrespect for limits and for justice. It manifests in the pretension that neither limits nor justice exist. To pretend that civilization can exist without destroying its own landbase and the landbases and cultures of others is to be entirely ignorant of history, biology, thermodynamics, morality, and self-preservation. And it is to have paid absolutely no attention to the past six thousand years.

One of the reasons we fail to perceive all of this is that we - the civilized - have been inculcated to believe that belongings are more important than belonging, and that relationships are based on dominance - violence and exploitation. Having come to believe that, and having come to believe the acquisition of material possessions is good (or even more abstractly, that the accumulation of money is good) and in fact the primary goal of life, we then have come to perceive ourselves as the primary beneficiaries of all of this insanity and injustice.

Right now I'm sitting in front of a space heater, and all other things being equal, I'd rather my toes were toasty than otherwise. But all other things aren't equal, and destroying runs of salmon by constructing dams for hydropower is a really stupid (and immoral) way to warm my feet. It's an extraordinarily bad trade. And it's not just space heaters. No amount of comforts or elegancies, what that nineteenth-century slave owner called the characteristics of civilization, are worth killing the planet. What's more, even if we do perceive it in our best interest to take these comforts or elegancies at the expense of the enslavement, impoverishment, or murder of others and their landbases, we have no right to do so. And no amount of rationalization nor overwhelming force - not even "full-spectrum domination" - will suffice to give us that right.

Yet we have been systematically taught to ignore these trade-offs, to pretend if we don't see them (even when they're right in front of our faces) they do not exist. Yesterday, I received this email: "We all face the future unsure if our own grandchildren will know what a tree is or ever taste salmon or even know what a clean glass of water tastes like. It is crucial, especially for those of us who see the world as a living being, to remember. I've realized that outside of radical activist circles and certain indigenous peoples, the majority has completely forgotten about the passenger pigeon, completely forgotten about salmon so abundant you could fish with baskets. I've met many people who think if we could just stop destroying the planet right now, that we'll be left with a beautiful world. It makes me wonder if the same type of people would say the same thing in the future even if they had to put on a protective suit in order to go outside and see the one tree left standing in their town. Would they also have forgotten? Would it still be a part of mainstream consciousness that there used to be whole forests teeming with life?

I think you and I agree that as long as this culture continues with its preferred methods of perception, then it would not be widely known to the majority. I used to think environmental activists would at least get to say, ‘I told you so' to everyone else once civilization finally succeeded in creating a wasteland, but now I'm not convinced that anyone will even remember. Perhaps the worst nightmare visions of activists a few hundred years ago match exactly the world we have outside our windows today, yet nobody is saying, ‘I told you so.'"

I think he's right. I've long had a nightmare/fantasy of standing on a desolate plain with a CEO or politician or capitalist journalist, shaking him by the shoulders and shouting, "Don't you see? Don't you see it was all a waste?" But after ruminating on this fellow's email, the nightmare has gotten even worse. Now I no longer have even the extraordinarily hollow satisfaction of seeing recognition of a massive mistake on this other's face. Now he merely looks at me, his eyes flashing a combination of arrogance, hatred, and willful incomprehension, and says, "I have no idea what you're talking about." And he isn't even entirely lying. Except of course to himself."

Chet Raymo, "Free Will?"

"Free Will?"
by Chet Raymo

“In an essay in the 14 May, 2009 issue of “Nature”, German biologist Martin Heisenberg asks the question: "Is free will an illusion?" And he answers: No.

We are free, says Heisenberg, if our actions are self-generated, and not mere responses to external stimuli. But how can they be self-generated in a world of cause and effect? As befitting the son of Werner Heisenberg, father of the Uncertainty Principle, Martin invokes the stochastic nature of quantum mechanics. Presumably, randomly firing neurons equal free will. One does not have to be consciously aware of an action for that action to be self-generated, says Heisenberg.

I did not find his essay to be a convincing defense of free will. For one thing, no one that I know of has shown that quantum effects have anything to do with the firing of neurons. And secondly, why should we be morally responsible for actions that are triggered by quantum noise rather than cause and effect? Further, how can we be morally responsible for an action that we are not aware of until it has been initiated?

Free will has traditionally been defined within a context of philosophical dualism. Free actions are initiated by intentionality in a nonphysical realm, the immaterial soul. This assumes that conscious intention precedes brain activity. That this is not the case is shown rather convincingly in experiments described in the 8 May, 2009 issue of "Science". Researchers electrically stimulated patients undergoing awake brain surgery. The stimuli excited movements of the limbs or movement of the lips to talk. The patients became aware of intentionality after the stimulation. That is to say, conscious intention came after the brain activity that initiated action.

This is pretty important stuff, from a philosophical point of view. It suggests that a dualistic understanding of free will is untenable. Is free will then an illusion? Don't expect the debate to end soon. We have too much morally invested in the idea of free will- and of a nonmaterial self- to concede the field to the physicalists.

I have elsewhere suggested that a more satisfying place to look for free will is in what is sometimes called chaos theory. In sufficiently complex systems with many feedback loops- the global economy, the weather, the human nervous system- small perturbations can lead to unpredictable large-scale consequences, though every part of the system is individually deterministic. This has sometimes been called- somewhat facetiously- the butterfly effect: A butterfly flaps its wings in China and triggers a cascade of events that results in a snowstorm in Chicago. Chaos theory has taught us that determinism in complex systems does not imply predictability.

An example: Photons of light and odor molecules from a piece of candy stimulate neurons in my optical and olfactory organs. Signal-transduction cascades inform my brain. Mmm, candy! Do I pick it up? Do I put it in my mouth? My action depends not only upon the external stimuli and my genetically inborn taste for sweets but also upon prior experiences and anticipations of future consequences as recorded in the soft-wired sections of my brain. I pick up the candy or I do not, depending upon a hugely complex- and to an outside observer unpredictable- conversation of molecules. This is not what traditional philosophers meant by free will, but is indistinguishable from what traditional philosophers meant by free will, i.e., the power to make free choices unconstrained by external agencies. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

When all is said and done, free will is a social construct, not a scientific hypothesis. Humans long ago discovered that living peaceably in groups requires a notion of individual responsibility. Responsibility implies freedom. In contemporary society, it is the judicial system that ultimately decides to what extent our actions are "free."

“Set Yourself Free: Letting Go of Perfection”

“Set Yourself Free: Letting Go of Perfection”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead. It is good to remember that one of our goals in life is to not be perfect. We often lose track of this aspiration. When we make mistakes, we think that we are failing or not measuring up.  But if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is a prerequisite. Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be our best. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection—especially in life. All living things are in a ceaseless state of movement. Even as you read this, your hair is growing, your cells are dying and being reborn, and your blood is moving through your veins. Your life changes more than it stays the same. Perfection may happen in a moment, but it will not last because it is an impermanent state. Trying to hold on to perfection or forcing it to happen causes frustration and unhappiness.

In spite of this, many of us are in the habit of trying to be perfect. One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice that no one is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, perfectionism is a holdover from our childhood—an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent. We are adults now, and we can choose to let go of the need to perform for someone else’s approval. Similarly, we can choose to experience the universe as a loving place where we are free to be imperfect. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves less seriously and have more fun. Imperfection is inherent to being human. By embracing your imperfections, you embrace yourself.”
Perfection of course doesn't exist.
This does not relieve you of the self-obligation to strive for better, 
to not merely settle for the common, the "good-enough", the mediocre... 
- CP

The Daily "Near You?"

Addis Ababa, Adis Abeba, Ethiopia. Thanks for stopping by.

"Your Time Is Limited..."

 “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life and
don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
 Most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. 
They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”  
- Steve Jobs

Paulo Coelho, “The Mystery of Discovery”

“The Mystery of Discovery”
by Paulo Coelho

“Tonight, before leaving, I’m going to spend time sorting through the pile of things I never had the patience to put in order. And I will find that a little of my history is there.

All the letters, the notes, cuttings and receipts will take on their own life and have strange stories to tell me – about the past and about the future. All the different things in the world, all the roads travelled, all the entrances and exits of my life.

I am going to put on a shirt I often wear and, for the first time, I am going to notice how it was made. I am going to imagine the hands that wove the cotton and the river where the fibres of the plant were born. I will understand that all those now invisible things are a part of the history of my shirt.

And even the things I am accustomed to – like the sandals which, after long use, have become an extension of my feet – will be clothed in the mystery of discovery. Since I am heading off into the future, I will be helped by the scuff marks left on my sandals from when I stumbled in the past.

May everything my hand touches and my eyes see and my mouth tastes be different, but the same. That way, all those things will cease to be a still life and instead will explain to me why they have been with me for such a long time; and they will reveal to me the miracle of re-encountering emotions worn smooth by routine.

I will drink some tea that I have never tried before because others told me it tasted horrible.
I will walk down a street I have never walked down before because others told me it was totally without interest.
And I will find out whether or not I would like to go back there.’

“This Just In: Humans Are Bad at Everything That’s Important”

“This Just In: Humans Are Bad at Everything That’s Important” 
by David

“When future anthropologists study us, they will learn a lot about what’s important to us by looking at our newspapers. A minority of our news stories cover what’s truly new: scientific discoveries, thriving business startups, or groundbreaking legislation. But most of our news stories are about some human being (or group of human beings) failing, in a very familiar way, to be kind, fair, or honest. Politician caught lying! Violence erupts between Group A and Group B! Company misleads customers for profit! Details at 6.

If we sat down to think about what’s really important to us, we might come up with qualities like fairness, kindness, responsibility, loyalty, and mutual respect. It seems like all of the major problems in the world are caused by a small contingent of bad apples, who simply shun these important qualities and ruin it for kind, responsible, honest and fair people like ourselves.

I think this is wishful thinking. The truth is that all of us — even those of us who feel like good people — are almost comically terrible at achieving these qualities, yet we expect them as a matter of course from each other and ourselves. Our incredulous response to scandal and selfishness suggests that we believe any of us could, at any moment, snap our of our self-interest and dysfunction, and make the world the place it should have been all along.

What makes us distinct from other species, more than anything, is that we’re able to move beyond being impulse-driven, self-interested animals, at least a little bit. We can reflect, we can refrain, we can empathize, we can plan. We can feel our impulses while at the same time understanding that they aren’t always leading us to good things.

In the relatively short time we’ve been able to explore this higher territory, we’ve come to really value these lofty qualities, and we’ve become preoccupied with public figures failing to achieve them. After all, we know it is virtues like fairness, honesty, discipline and kindness that are going to make it easier to be human, to deal with suffering and loss and all the stark realities that come with knowing you’re a vulnerable, animated bag of meat. We desperately want to get ourselves (but especially others) to embody these higher human qualities, which promise to save us from cruelty and misery. But as much as we covet them, we forget that these new capacities are in fact skills, and that as a species we’re generally not very good at them.

Essentially, this higher territory is what we call morality, and I think we tend to greatly overestimate how good we are at it. We’re a species who, as I point out frequently, can barely uphold our New Year’s commitments to ourselves, yet we seem to expect everyone else to be more or less upstanding and incorruptible. Why am I so frequently appalled by how thoughtlessly other people park their cars, when I don’t think twice about spending thirty dollars on beer instead of feeding the starving?

You can make up excuses for this kind of behavior — cognitive dissonance, meritocratic economics, drop-in-the-bucket syndrome — but I think all of that is avoiding the truth about human beings, which is that we are pitifully underdeveloped when it comes to morality. We just happen to be living in that awkward and painful stage where we recognize its supreme importance to our well-being, yet we’re so bad at it we can barely stand ourselves. 

So what am I suggesting we do about this? Two things:

1) That we recognize how hard it is for human beings to be what they aspire to be. Why are we so shocked that a politician would lie? That a company puts profits ahead of compassion? That everyday people harbor prejudices? That we have such a hard time saving enough for retirement, or giving enough to charity, or not eating too much?

For one thing, it’s so much easier to identify the right thing to do than to actually do it, and when we’re assessing the behavior of others, we only have to do the former. But even with our own selves, we trivialize the difficulty of living up to our moral standards.

To quit smoking, you only have to do one simple thing: avoid putting cigarettes in your mouth. How hard is that? Somehow, very. How hard is it to treat others as yourself? So incredibly difficult we are bound to spend our lives failing at it.

I’m not suggesting we downplay or deny the harm that our moral failings cause, but to become more accepting of human failing in general, particularly our own. We are too quick to condemn people for not living up to what are actually extremely lofty standards, at least for a creature whose motivations are still largely reptilian.

You might think, “Well, I know I should give more to charity than I do, but I would never lie to my spouse! Only a monster could do that!” That much may be true; you may have the wherewithal to succeed (so far) at Lofty Moral Standard X, but not at Lofty Moral Standard Y. And perhaps you would argue that the standards you meet are more important than the ones you don’t — but maybe you are just lucky in that regard, and can’t really explain why something is straightforward for you that seems nearly impossible for someone else. We should be grateful for the moral wherewithal we do have, and never lose sight of how easy it is to fall short of Complete Moral Upstandingness, and how often we do so ourselves.

The name for this particular combination of empathy and gratitude is forgiveness, which is itself another lofty aspiration of human beings that we are generally terrible at. One crucial understanding we must come to, as a species that is struggling to transcend its amoral animal past, is that we can’t expect our progress to be evenly distributed across individuals of our species. That means you may know how to do the right thing at times others don’t, and for that you should be grateful instead of vindictive.

2) That we take seriously the project of actively working on our virtues. We do have an instinctive sense of empathy, and maybe a bit of an egalitarian impulse somewhere in our mammalian genes, but that’s not enough to meet our standards for what we think people should be like. For the most part we have to learn how to be that kind of person, and it’s the work of a lifetime. Just look at how a two-year old “shares” a toy with another two-year old, and you can see how much you’ve learned about controlling your impulses and considering the effects your actions have on others.

You could call this kind of acquired humanness wisdom, and the pursuit of wisdom is called philosophy. There’s a running joke in Western culture about the uselessness of a philosophy degree, which is a nearly perfect indication of how unwise our culture really is, We consider education to be useful only insofar as it expands our income, which seems to be our our primary measure of personal development.

But philosophy isn’t useless or boring. It’s how we learn how to be better people, or more specifically, how to become the kind people we wish others would be. For thousands of years, people have been teaching each other how to be a better partner, overcome envy and greed, be compassionate regardless of our own troubles, imagine better societies, raise better children, and otherwise become less self-interested and easier to be around.

The overarching theme of human wisdom is learning to use our newer, higher capacities, such as reason, compassion, and empathy, to mitigate the dangers of our older, less civilized impulses. But it’s crucial to remember how new these higher capacities are, and how easily our reptilian fears and anxieties can undermine them.

Much of what religion teaches seems to be an attempt to do this — to help us shed our baser motives and find a way to transcend selfishness, carnal desires, envy, laziness, and contempt. While philosophy has much more helpful things to say than scripture tends to, religion does something very important that secular institutions don’t: it asks us to accept how flawed we really are, at least in comparison to what we aspire to be. All kinds of practices, from Christianity to Islam to Buddhism, have always been in the business of helping us overcome our relatively pitiful out-of-the-box state.

So there’s actually a lot we can learn from these traditions, even for unbelievers. We just have to stay aware of the Iron-Age context their parables come from, and the trouble religious institutions themselves have had in overcoming human fallibility. (Skeptics should read Alain de Botton’s brilliant Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.) Religion, after all, is just a subset of philosophy, and we should get help with being human wherever we can find it.

The problem with religion has always been that it so often succumbs to the problem it’s tried to address. But that’s only one example of the bigger human irony I’m getting at here: we could become a better species simply by recognizing how we’re not as great as we think we should be.When we look at it that way, we find fewer reasons to complain and more reasons to be grateful.”