Thursday, March 24, 2011

"How It Really Is Sometimes"

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks. "Real life" sometimes has a naughty way on being uncooperative, in this case my "beloved" ISP, which may or may not have breathed it's last breath. Financial matters, back taxes, or so I've heard. In any case, until this all works out I can't post, and am considering other options. Hopefully this resolves quickly. Until it does commenting is turned off to deter those crafty live link spammers, and there are still 13,400 odd posts. Thanks for your patience. Be kind to each other, we're all we've got. And always look on the bright side of life...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"How It Really Is"


Radiation Information, Jet Stream Monitoring

“Radiation Chart”
by Matt E. Ryan

“Just as understanding millions from billions from trillions is important, so too is understanding radiation and the risks from it. Here's a handy chart that gets at the latter nicely, many thanks to Greg Cooney.
.
Click image for larger sizes.

The general lesson for those in America freaking out about radiation from Japan: Take a deep breath and understand the magnitude of things.”
Radiation, Jet Stream Monitoring

Here are links to track jet stream activity from Japan and U.S. radiation levels.

Monitor US Radiation Levels Here: Updated Every Minute Monitor Jet Stream:

Jetstream Activity Between Japan and US, Europe, Updated Every 6 Hours:
 Hat tip to Jean McDonald and Alex Noble for these links.

John Maynard Keynes

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men
will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”
 - John Maynard Keynes

Kleptocracy: Karl Denninger, “Socialists Have It Wrong”

“Socialists Have It Wrong”
 by Karl Denninger

“The Socialist party, like so many others, misdiagnose what's missing in America and why what ails us has come to pass. The problem is not, as they complained then (and people complain now) that Capitalism is defective.  To the contrary; Capitalism is what allows a man to rise from nothing to wealth.  To land here on the shores of America with a pair of threadbare pants and an old shirt, yet become a landowner and prosperous.  To suffer the ignobility of poverty and crime as a child, but rise above it and start his own business.

But Capitalism comes with the risk of failure.  Under Capitalism when banks make bad loans, they go out of business.  Under Capitalism when you make a bad investment you lose money.  Under Capitalism when a factory makes a product nobody wants to buy, or which is too expensive, it closes.  Under Capitalism when labor prices itself out of the market the firm makes no profit and everyone gets laid off as the company goes bust.  And under Capitalism if you choose to sit on your ass instead of being industrious to at least some degree you will eventually starve and die.

Plutocracy knows no such check and balance on behavior.  When Plutocrats make bad loans, they get the government to bail them out at taxpayer expense and the bank gets even bigger.  When Plutocrats take shortcuts drilling for oil, the people are barred from lawsuits against them to recover the economic damage they do to those who have oil spilled on them.  When Plutocrats intentionally debase the currency they are patted on the back and called heroes, while another man who is not a Plutocrat goes to prison for challenging their oligarchy.  When Plutocrats concoct and sell worthless securities on purpose they keep the loot while those who they ripped off are rendered penniless.  When Plutocrats lie about the intent of their laws they get campaign contributions and use them to drown out dissenters while gerrymandering districts to prevent meaningful opposition in the political process.   When Plutocrats file 150,000 bogus affidavits they are not indicted for 150,000 felony perjury counts and instead "negotiate" for a "settlement" allowing them to keep the bulk of the profit from homes they effectively stole and resold.  When Plutocrats hire someone to break into an occupied home and terrorize the woman within they are not arrested and charged with felony breaking and entering into a dwelling; they at worst get a scolding. 

When Plutocrats shoot a woodcarver who's only offense is taking more than 2 seconds to respond to a command, or a helpless child sleeping on a couch in Detroit, they are not charged with homicide; they call these acts an "accident" where if you, an ordinary citizen, had a similar "accident" you would go to prison.  When Plutocrats run over a bicyclist and flee they are charged with a misdemeanor; an ordinary citizen committing the same crime does 20 years in prison for felony manslaughter.  When Plutocrats conspire to bribe officials on sewer contracts your sewer bill goes up 500% and they keep the money they stole; the hapless few officials who are not Plutocrats but were dumb enough to conspire with them go to prison. 

When Plutocrats allow 2,000 guns to unlawfully be shipped to Mexican drug gangs and one of them is used to kill an American nobody goes to jail, where if an ordinary citizen sells one gun to a convicted felon they do ten years of time in federal prison.  When Plutocrats launder drug money for Mexican Gangs, they pay only a small fine and consider it a cost of doing business.  When Plutocrats admit (twice) to committing a felony in the marketing of drugs that may have put thousands at risk of death they again pay only a fine, rather than facing a negligent homicide charge for each person who died as a consequence and aggravated assault charges for those who did not.

The solution is not Socialism, for that political system is simply Plutocracy on steroids.  Reduced to common control of the means of production for the alleged common good government becomes even more corrupt.  Power in Socialism does not descend to the worker nor is it democratic, as was proved by Soviet Russia and countless other examples over the last two hundred years.  Rather that power vests in a handful of government officials, just as it does now, but with even more right of enforcement than we have today.  Those who dissent are simply carted off to Siberia or given a drink spiked with Polonium and die in radioactive agony.

The solution is in fact Libertarianism.  That is, actual Capitalism and The Rule of Law.  Under that system you have the right to control your own earnings.  Your money is sound and can be stored or deployed as you see fit.  It is not stolen through intentional debasement and perversion, nor taxed away without your consent to fund wars that are undeclared for purpose of propping up this dictator or that, or is it given to those who refuse to labor for their own benefit.  Those who commit wrongs are forced to face the music and pay for their crimes, whether that crime comes at the barrel of a gun or occurs on a drill rig where a corporate decision to cut a corner was made and resulted in economic harm.  Those who make bad loans go bankrupt, and those who knowingly sell bad loans to investors go to prison, as all forms of theft are equal under the law and punished accordingly.  Laws forbidding you to engage in consensual conduct between adults do not exist, as a Libertarian government recognizes that as an adult person you own your body before all else, and that the government's right of interference does not begin until you swing your fist within reach of another.  At the same time theft and fraud are considered only upon the amount stolen or harm done without regard to the tools employed; the man who steals a million dollars with a briefcase faces the same sentence as one who prosecutes his theft using a gun.

It is true that we cannot find solace under either Democrat or Republican parties today, but that is not because Capitalism is at fault.  It is because we do not have Capitalism. Today we have Kleptocracy, where the Plutocracy does as it wishes irrespective of alleged laws on the books that are enforced with vigor against everyone else. To resolve this dilemma we cannot turn further toward that which is broken.  Socialist "democracies" are nothing more than a means of fatting up the sheep so the few wolves in Washington can have a more-fulfilling dinner.

It is Capitalism and Libertarianism that teaches us that all men and women have the fundamental right to ownership of oneself.  From this right flows the right to self-defense and the right to ownership and defense of private property. Upon that base the public naturally builds capital formation and industry without the need for coercion or protection.  The motive of profit and even greed is not bad, it is good, provided that the actions taken thereupon comport with the rights of others.  Unbridled greed that manifests in theft and coercion is wrong and is punished, while that which manifests in invention and prosperity lifts those who put their effort, whether by mind or hand, into industry and find honest wealth by their own acts.

That is what our nation was founded on. It is also what our nation has lost. If we are to regain that which we lost, we must have an honest exposition and debate on what has happened, how we can correct it, and how we will force those who have brought this ruin upon our political and economic systems to be held to account.”

The Economy: Richard Duncan, “Bernanke’s Choice”

“Bernanke’s Choice”
by Richard Duncan

“For twelve years the US trade deficit financed the US budget deficit and held down US interest rates. From 1996 to 2008, the US trade deficit exceeded the government’s budget deficit every year. The dollars sent abroad to pay for the trade deficit were accumulated by the central banks of the trade surplus countries, who then reinvested them in US government bonds. As discussed in earlier posts, those central banks bought up the dollars entering their economies in order to hold down the value of their currencies and so perpetuate their countries’ low-wage trade advantage and their export-led economic growth.

Although this process was extraordinarily damaging to the US economy over the long run as it destroyed the United States’ manufacturing sector, it had tremendous short term appeal for the US government since it financed its budget deficit at exceptionally low interest rates.

At its peak in 2006, the United States’ $800 billion trade deficit was so much larger than the government’s $160 billion budget deficit that it caused the Fed to lose control over interest rates and, therefore, over the economy as the surplus countries’ central banks were forced to buy up hundreds of billions of dollars worth of US government bonds that had been issued in earlier years, pushing up their price and driving down their yields. Low interest rates threw fuel onto the US property bubble and the Fed was absolutely powerless to do anything about it.

The situation is entirely different today. When the US property bubble popped and the global economic crisis began in 2008, the government’s budget deficit soared and the US trade deficit shrank. This year the budget deficit will be approximately $1.5 trillion, while the trade deficit will only be around $500 billion. The trade surplus countries (led by China) will print their own currencies and accumulate this half a trillion dollars as foreign exchange reserves and use it to buy up a third of the US budget deficit. However, that will still leave a trillion dollar funding shortfall in the US government’s finances.

That’s where Quantitative Easing comes in. By printing $600 billion and buying up $600 billion of government bonds between November 2010 (when QE 2 was launched) and June 2011 (when it is scheduled to end) the Fed is plugging that funding gap. However, if QE 2 ends on June 30th, there will once again be a yawning hole in the funding of the budget deficit.

QE 2 has boosted the economy in two ways. First, by acquiring $600 billion in government bonds, the Fed has financed the budget deficit at low interest rates. Second, QE 2 has forced the investors who would have bought those bonds to buy something else instead—something else like stocks! This explains why the stock market has risen 20% since QE 2 was announced in August. Higher stock prices have created a wealth effect that has financed a pick-up in consumer spending.

If the Fed stops printing money and buying government bonds (i.e. monetizing the government debt) at the end of June, then the money required to finance the $1.5 trillion budget deficit will have to come from somewhere else and the government will have to pay more for it. In other words, money would have to come out of stocks to fund the budget deficit and interest rates would rise. This would cause a significant drop in wealth as stock prices fell and it would negatively impact the entire economy as the cost of borrowing rose for everyone.

Now that the US trade deficit is no longer large enough to finance the massive government budget deficit, the Fed has had to step in to fill that role. If the Fed carries on with QE 3 in the second half of this year, it will be for that reason. Ending Quantitative Easing would sink the stock market, drive up interest rates and provoke a new economic slump. On the other hand, since printing money causes food price inflation, the continuation of Quantitative Easing would cause food prices to continue spiking globally, precipitate new waves of food riots in the Middle-East and around the world and exacerbate the geopolitical instability that soaring food prices have already caused.

That’s Bernanke’s choice. He must choose between recession in the United States or hunger in the developing world, where two billion people live on less than $2 per day. The odds are, he’ll choose hunger.”

Japan Earthquakes: “Seeing Through The Cracks”

“Seeing Through The Cracks”
Jennifer Chu, MIT News

“While rescue workers in Japan continue their search for missing persons amid the rubble in Sendai and beyond, geologists are sifting through seismic data and satellite images for hints to what caused one of the most catastrophic earthquakes in recorded history. For the past week, scientists around the world have posted charts and maps on blogs and websites to help describe the extent of the quake, and the vulnerabilities that possibly triggered the massive rupture.

So far, data have shown the quake may have redistributed the Earth's mass and moved the planet's axis, increasing its speed of rotation and shortening the day by a fraction of a second. There are also reports that a significant portion of Japan's eastern shoreline dropped off by several feet as a result of motion along a fault line further east where one tectonic plate slid under another. There are reports that the east coast of the island of Honshu may have also shifted to the east as a result of the quake. Scientists observed what may be farther-reaching effects, as the tremor may have also momentarily shifted the position of a large glacier in Antarctica.

Bradford Hager, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, says the outpouring of scientific analyses is thanks in part to Japan's extensive monitoring system - a network of thousands of sensors on land and sea that have continuously kept tabs on local seismic energy.

"It's incredible how instrumented this quake is," Hager says. "With a thousand GPS receivers, you can see there's a lot of detail. Having that data will enable us to understand and statistically forecast earthquakes in the future."

It's no coincidence that Japan has one of the most advanced earthquake monitoring systems in the world. The country sits along the "Ring of Fire," a wide arc of active volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Ocean that curves around Australia, up along the eastern edge of Asia, and sweeps down the western edge of North and South America. Ninety percent of the world's earthquakes occur along this seismic belt, and Japan experiences approximately 1,500 earthquakes a year.

The massive shock that struck on March 11 occurred within a tectonic zone that typically generates large tremors. Japan lies on two major tectonic plates - the North American plate to the north, and the Eurasian plate to the south. Just south of the Eurasian plate lies the smaller Philippine Plate, and to the east, the massive Pacific plate. Like shuffling in slow motion, these plates shift against each other, creeping along at the rate of almost ten centimeters per year, causing minor or imperceptible tremors.

Leigh Royden, Professor of Geology and Geophysics, says that it's in areas of subduction, where one plate slides under another, where larger earthquakes occur. The titanic tremor on March 11 very likely occurred as a result of stress built up as the Pacific plate slid under the southern sliver of the North American Plate.

"Japan is living on a cauldron of natural disasters, between large quakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions," Royden says. "These areas where there's subduction can give rise to mega earthquakes."

Hager says these tectonically active regions usually produce earthquakes in the 7.0 to 8.0-magnitude range. In the past 40 years, there have been about ten earthquakes within this range in the region. It's extremely rare to see a 9.0 magnitude earthquake such as the one on March 11. What's more unusual is that two days earlier, the country experienced a 7.2 magnitude tremor that, at the time, seismologists considered to be the main shock.

"One of the mysteries is what keeps all earthquakes from turning into bigger earthquakes," Hager says. "When a fault ruptures, the local stresses are relieved and get transferred to another fault, so breaking one fault automatically increases the stress levels of other faults."

If those other faults already have built up stress, the added strain could cause them to break in turn, triggering an even stronger earthquake. A map generated by one of Hager's former MIT graduate students may support this theory. Brendan J. Meade, now associate professor in the department of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University, plotted out the strengths and weaknesses of Japan's surrounding fault lines, and found that the area between the two recent earthquakes contained many stressed, or "locked," faults that were already close to the breaking point. The initial breakage that triggered a 7.2 quake on March 9 could have collapsed surrounding faults in a ripple effect, generating the more devastating 9.0 earthquake two days later.

The March 11 earthquake in turn will continue to shift the balance of stresses along neighboring fault lines, creating aftershocks that may be felt for years, though with rapidly decreasing frequency. However, Robert van der Hilst, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of the Earth Resources Laboratory, says there is always a possibility that an aftershock could break a major fault, setting off another large earthquake. "It is possible that earthquakes in the foreseeable future could indeed relate to what happened last Friday," says van der Hilst. He adds that predicting when such quakes may strike is the "Holy Grail" of earthquake seismology.

While Japan has set the standard for earthquake monitoring, van der Hilst and others want to advance the system to identify signs of tremors earlier. One way is to have even more sensors to monitor signals below the Earth's surface. It is possible that in the future researchers will detect signals that they don't even know exist, but which may be able to alert them to impending shocks. Van der Hilst envisions burying sensors deep within boreholes, much like how oil and gas companies monitor reservoirs, in order to detect significant quake-developing patterns.

"I can imagine in the future there will be more sensors, maybe in boreholes, so you can really listen full-time, like a player of a 4D video game, to see what's going on in the sub-surface beneath a country like Japan," says van der Hilst.”
- http://www.sott.net/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Free Download: "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach

“How much more there is now to living!
Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life!
We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of
excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”

- Jonathan Livingston Seagull

"This is a story for people who follow their dreams and make their own rules; a story that has inspired people for decades. For most seagulls, life consists simply of eating and surviving. Flying is just a means of finding food. However, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is no ordinary bird. For him, flying is life itself. Against the conventions of seagull society, he seeks to find a higher purpose and become the best at doing what he loves.

This is a fable about the importance of making the most of our lives, even if our goals run contrary to the norms of our flock, tribe or neighborhood. Through the metaphor of flight, Jonathan’s story shows us that, if we follow our dreams, we too can soar."

“Richard Bach with this book does two things:
He gives me Flight. He makes me Young.
For both I am deeply grateful.”
- Ray Bradbury
•••
FREE Download, in PDF format, of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach, is here:
http://img1.liveinternet.ru/images/

Legal notice: "This electronic version of the book, has been released FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. You may not sell or make any profit from this book. And if you like this book, - buy a paper copy and give it to someone who does not have a computer, if that is possible for you."

"A Look to the Heavens"

“The universe is filled with galaxies. But to see them astronomers must look out beyond the stars of our galaxy, the Milky Way. For example, consider this colorful telescopic view of spiral galaxy NGC 6384, about 80 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. At that distance, NGC 6384 spans an estimated 150,000 light-years, but this close-up of the galaxy's central region is about 70,000 light-years wide. 
 
Click image for larger size.

The sharp image shows details in the distant galaxy's blue spiral arms and yellowish core. Still, the individual stars seen in the picture are all in the close foreground, well within our own galaxy. The brighter Milky Way stars show noticeable crosses, or diffraction spikes, caused by the telescope itself.”

Mahatma Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever.”
- Mahatma Gandhi

Kahlil Gibran, "The Prophet, on Death"

"You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands
before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides,
that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance."

Kahlil Gibran, "The Prophet, on Death"

Richard Bach, "Illusions", "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

"There is a family of us who have this yearning for a kind of excellence that we can manifest every day of our lives, a family who wants to believe we're not pawns, we're not victims on this planet, that knows we have the power within us here and now to change the world we see around us!"

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life.
Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof."
- "Illusions: The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah"

"If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?"
- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

Psychology: "7 Signs You're in a Manipulative Relationship"

"7 Signs You're in a Manipulative Relationship"
by Colleen Oakley

“Christine Donovan knew something wasn't right in her relationship when she didn't want to go home from work. "I felt anxious all the time," she says. "I never knew what kind of mood he would be in, or if I had unknowingly done something that would have upset him." But Christine wasn't in an abusive relationship - at least none that she had ever seen. "He didn't hit me or get violently angry. I just thought we were having normal relationship problems that we needed to work through," she says.

The type of guy Christine was dealing with is all too common, but there's nothing "normal" about it, says Dr. Mary Casey, author of "How to Deal With Master Manipulators". "Manipulators aim to control their partners by pressing the buttons that get them emotional, whether it be making them feel afraid, unworthy, stupid, insecure, angry or frustrated," she says. But because manipulators are typically passive-aggressive in their tactics, unlike domestic abuse, it can be difficult to tell when you're in a manipulative relationship. "While abuse is obvious, victims of manipulation don't even realize they are being manipulated because the manipulator masks their behavior as positive, caring and nurturing," she says.

If you're sad more often than happy in your relationship and something feels wrong but you just can't put your finger on it, read on to see if you might be shacking up with a manipulative partner - and what you can do about it.

7 Signs You're in a Manipulative Relationship:

1. You're always falling short of your partner's expectations. In an argument, the person being manipulated is often made to feel they are the ones at fault all of the time, says Casey. But what's really going on is the manipulator is shifting the blame onto them and detracting in subtle, hard-to-detect ways. They'll commonly say things like, "So we're going to have the big interrogation are we?" or "Are you going to get all emotional again?"

2. You often feel guilty in your relationship and are always looking to repair the "damage." The manipulator is skilled at making people feel this way by saying things like "I spent all this money on this gift for you, and look how you thank me" or "You have trust issues - why don't you trust me?"

3. You don't often know where you stand with your partner. A manipulative partner often uses concealed or open threats to keep his girlfriend anxious and holding onto the relationship, says Casey. He might use statements such as "I don't even know why I'm here anymore; this isn't working for me."

4. You often feel like you're walking on eggshells around him (or her). Maybe sometimes you're given lots of love and affections; at other times you're given the cold shoulder for no apparent reason, says Casey.

5. You feel confused in the relationship and keep questioning or blaming yourself for making your partner angry or frustrated. Manipulators are skilled at never being to blame for any problem in a relationship.

6. You're unhappy in your relationship at least 90 percent of the time. This is a big red flag for anyone in a relationship - whether you're with a manipulator or not, it's time to reevaluate why you're with that person.

7. You're anxious about telling your partner your plans or about something you've bought. If this is the case, you're most likely being controlled and manipulated, says Casey.
 
If a few or more of these statements described your relationship, you're likely with a manipulator, and the bad news is, he or she is unlikely to change.

"Manipulation is a learned behavior - no one is born with it. It's very much a survival strategy learned from early childhood and therefore changing the behavior is near impossible," says Casey. "Your time is better invested in developing strategies to protect yourselves, because you can never change a manipulator's actions.

In other words, dump the jerk and then look into how you attracted him in the first place. "Women who attract manipulators tend to lack self-worth and assertiveness, and they tend to be people pleasers," says Casey. "They trust to the point of ignorance and therefore do not realize that they are being manipulated until they have been in emotional turmoil for some time. It can often be years before they see the situation for what it really is. But once you do recognize it, you can put a stop to it. "First, take responsibility and own up to being a victim and a target," says Casey. "Admit your flaws to yourself. And most importantly, get out of the relationship and become who you really are; not something someone else wants you to be."
 •
Colleen Oakley is a freelance writer who is still pretty good at manipulating her dad - although, he never did buy her a pony. You can find out more about her at her website.

The Daily "Near You?"

Alexandria Bay, New York, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Free Download: Andrew M. Lobaczewski, "Political Ponerology"

"Political Ponerology:
A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes"
by Andrew M. Lobaczewski

"Imagine - if you can - not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your coldbloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world. You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered. How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)?

The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people - whether they have a conscience or not - favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dullwitted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites.

Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all. If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other people's hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction.

Crazy and frightening - and real, in about 4 percent of the population..." - Martha Stout

"Political Ponerology" is a great book that should be read by everybody as it provides valuable information in understanding why our society has seen a disappearance of human values and an increase in hedonistic behaviours with little care for others. Lobaczewski's great contribution is in showing the process by which people with psychopathic personality disorders congregate and slowly take over organizations, political parties, businesses to finally stifle the whole of society.

It goes to great length in explaining the phenomenon of psychopathy on a macro scale. It deals in a non-judgmental way with the subject of evil. The author clearly lays out the various types of psychopathy and what happens when they combine their various talents and manage to take over a society from the inside and start to rule over normal people in the form of a pathocracy. Though the author primarily deals with examples from his own life experiences under the rule in the former Soviet Union, the parallels to today's world are chilling and very spot on. The book has many footnotes from the editor Laura Knight Jadczyk which clarifies and brings added information to some of the issues dealt with.

The book not only describes the process by which evil takes over but also how it progresses and how normal people can stand up to it. In order to do that, knowledge of the system is needed and that is what this book gives. As the author says at the end of the book then more research is needed, but it is a very profound seminal work that should inspire many to take up this important subject and continue the research. After reading this book I read 'The Sociopath next door' by Martha Stout, 'In Sheeps Clothing' by George Simon, 'The Mask of Sanity' by Hervey Checkley and 'Without Conscience' by Robert Hare, all of whom deal with different aspects of the phenomenon of psychopaths but on a micro scale. Very complimentary!"
- http://www.ebookee.com/
•••
FREE Download, in PDF format, of "Political Ponerology" by Andrew M. Lobaczewski is here:
http://tinyurl.com/political-ponerology-pdf
•••
Additional resources: http://www.cassiopaea.com/cassiopaea/psychopath.htm

Earnest Benn, "Politics"

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, 
diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”
- Earnest Benn

Geopolitics: "Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy"

"Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy"
By George Friedman

"Forces from the United States and some European countries have intervened in Libya. Under U.N. authorization, they have imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, meaning they will shoot down any Libyan aircraft that attempts to fly within Libya. In addition, they have conducted attacks against aircraft on the ground, airfields, air defenses and the command, control and communication systems of the Libyan government, and French and U.S. aircraft have struck against Libyan armor and ground forces. There also are reports of European and Egyptian special operations forces deploying in eastern Libya, where the opposition to the government is centered, particularly around the city of Benghazi. In effect, the intervention of this alliance has been against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, and by extension, in favor of his opponents in the east.

The alliance’s full intention is not clear, nor is it clear that the allies are of one mind. The U.N. Security Council resolution clearly authorizes the imposition of a no-fly zone. By extension, this logically authorizes strikes against airfields and related targets. Very broadly, it also defines the mission of the intervention as protecting civilian lives. As such, it does not specifically prohibit the presence of ground forces, though it does clearly state that no “foreign occupation force” shall be permitted on Libyan soil. It can be assumed they intended that forces could intervene in Libya but could not remain in Libya after the intervention. What this means in practice is less than clear.

There is no question that the intervention is designed to protect Gadhafi’s enemies from his forces. Gadhafi had threatened to attack “without mercy” and had mounted a sustained eastward assault that the rebels proved incapable of slowing. Before the intervention, the vanguard of his forces was on the doorstep of Benghazi. The protection of the eastern rebels from Gadhafi’s vengeance coupled with attacks on facilities under Gadhafi’s control logically leads to the conclusion that the alliance wants regime change, that it wants to replace the Gadhafi government with one led by the rebels.

But that would be too much like the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations and the alliance haven’t gone that far in their rhetoric, regardless of the logic of their actions. Rather, the goal of the intervention is explicitly to stop Gadhafi’s threat to slaughter his enemies, support his enemies but leave the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the eastern coalition. In other words — and this requires a lot of words to explain — they want to intervene to protect Gadhafi’s enemies, they are prepared to support those enemies (though it is not clear how far they are willing to go in providing that support), but they will not be responsible for the outcome of the civil war.

The Regional Context: To understand this logic, it is essential to begin by considering recent events in North Africa and the Arab world and the manner in which Western governments interpreted them. Beginning with Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and then to the Arabian Peninsula, the last two months have seen widespread unrest in the Arab world. Three assumptions have been made about this unrest. The first was that it represented broad-based popular opposition to existing governments, rather than representing the discontent of fragmented minorities — in other words, that they were popular revolutions. Second, it assumed that these revolutions had as a common goal the creation of a democratic society. Third, it assumed that the kind of democratic society they wanted was similar to European-American democracy, in other words, a constitutional system supporting Western democratic values.

Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture. They might have, but the demonstrators were a tiny fraction of Egyptian society, and while they clearly wanted a democracy, it is less than clear that they wanted a liberal democracy. Recall that the Iranian Revolution created an Islamic Republic more democratic than its critics would like to admit, but radically illiberal and oppressive. In Egypt, it is clear that Mubarak was generally loathed but not clear that the regime in general was being rejected. It is not clear from the outcome what will happen now. Egypt may stay as it is, it may become an illiberal democracy or it may become a liberal democracy.

Consider also Bahrain. Clearly, the majority of the population is Shiite, and resentment toward the Sunni government is apparent. It should be assumed that the protesters want to dramatically increase Shiite power, and elections should do the trick. Whether they want to create a liberal democracy fully aligned with the U.N. doctrines on human rights is somewhat more problematic.

Egypt is a complicated country, and any simple statement about what is going on is going to be wrong. Bahrain is somewhat less complex, but the same holds there. The idea that opposition to the government means support for liberal democracy is a tremendous stretch in all cases — and the idea that what the demonstrators say they want on camera is what they actually want is problematic. Even more problematic in many cases is the idea that the demonstrators in the streets simply represent a universal popular will.

Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.

This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles. Leaving aside whether the narrative is accurate, reconciling these two principles is not easy — but it particularly appeals to Europeans with their ideological preference for “soft power.”

The West has been walking a tightrope of these contradictory principles; Libya became the place where they fell off. According to the narrative, what happened in Libya was another in a series of democratic uprisings, but in this case suppressed with a brutality outside the bounds of what could be tolerated. Bahrain apparently was inside the bounds, and Egypt was a success, but Libya was a case in which the world could not stand aside while Gadhafi destroyed a democratic uprising. Now, the fact that the world had stood aside for more than 40 years while Gadhafi brutalized his own and other people was not the issue. In the narrative being told, Libya was no longer an isolated tyranny but part of a widespread rising — and the one in which the West’s moral integrity was being tested in the extreme. Now was different from before.

Of course, as with other countries, there was a massive divergence between the narrative and what actually happened. Certainly, that there was unrest in Tunisia and Egypt caused opponents of Gadhafi to think about opportunities, and the apparent ease of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave them some degree of confidence. But it would be an enormous mistake to see what has happened in Libya as a mass, liberal democratic uprising. The narrative has to be strained to work in most countries, but in Libya, it breaks down completely.

The Libyan Uprising: As we have pointed out, the Libyan uprising consisted of a cluster of tribes and personalities, some within the Libyan government, some within the army and many others longtime opponents of the regime, all of whom saw an opportunity at this particular moment. Though many in western portions of Libya, notably in the cities of Zawiya and Misurata, identify themselves with the opposition, they do not represent the heart of the historic opposition to Tripoli found in the east. It is this region, known in the pre-independence era as Cyrenaica, that is the core of the opposition movement. United perhaps only by their opposition to Gadhafi, these people hold no common ideology and certainly do not all advocate Western-style democracy. Rather, they saw an opportunity to take greater power, and they tried to seize it.

According to the narrative, Gadhafi should quickly have been overwhelmed — but he wasn’t. He actually had substantial support among some tribes and within the army. All of these supporters had a great deal to lose if he was overthrown. Therefore, they proved far stronger collectively than the opposition, even if they were taken aback by the initial opposition successes. To everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi not only didn’t flee, he counterattacked and repulsed his enemies.

This should not have surprised the world as much as it did. Gadhafi did not run Libya for the past 42 years because he was a fool, nor because he didn’t have support. He was very careful to reward his friends and hurt and weaken his enemies, and his supporters were substantial and motivated. One of the parts of the narrative is that the tyrant is surviving only by force and that the democratic rising readily routs him. The fact is that the tyrant had a lot of support in this case, the opposition wasn’t particularly democratic, much less organized or cohesive, and it was Gadhafi who routed them.

As Gadhafi closed in on Benghazi, the narrative shifted from the triumph of the democratic masses to the need to protect them from Gadhafi — hence the urgent calls for airstrikes. But this was tempered by reluctance to act decisively by landing troops, engaging the Libyan army and handing power to the rebels: Imperialism had to be avoided by doing the least possible to protect the rebels while arming them to defeat Gadhafi. Armed and trained by the West, provided with command of the air by the foreign air forces — this was the arbitrary line over which the new government keeps from being a Western puppet. It still seems a bit over the line, but that’s how the story goes.

In fact, the West is now supporting a very diverse and sometimes mutually hostile group of tribes and individuals, bound together by hostility to Gadhafi and not much else. It is possible that over time they could coalesce into a fighting force, but it is far more difficult imagining them defeating Gadhafi’s forces anytime soon, much less governing Libya together. There are simply too many issues among them. It is, in part, these divisions that allowed Gadhafi to stay in power as long as he did. The West’s ability to impose order on them without governing them, particularly in a short amount of time, is difficult to imagine. They remind me of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, anointed by the Americans, distrusted by much of the country and supported by a fractious coalition.

Other Factors: There are other factors involved, of course. Italy has an interest in Libyan oil, and the United Kingdom was looking for access to the same. But just as Gadhafi was happy to sell the oil, so would any successor regime be; this war was not necessary to guarantee access to oil. NATO politics also played a role. The Germans refused to go with this operation, and that drove the French closer to the Americans and British. There is the Arab League, which supported a no-fly zone (though it did an about-face when it found out that a no-fly zone included bombing things) and offered the opportunity to work with the Arab world.

But it would be a mistake to assume that these passing interests took precedence over the ideological narrative, the genuine belief that it was possible to thread the needle between humanitarianism and imperialism — that it was possible to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds without thereby interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The belief that one can take recourse to war to save the lives of the innocent without, in the course of that war, taking even more lives of innocents, also was in play.

The comparison to Iraq is obvious. Both countries had a monstrous dictator. Both were subjected to no-fly zones. The no-fly zones don’t deter the dictator. In due course, this evolves into a massive intervention in which the government is overthrown and the opposition goes into an internal civil war while simultaneously attacking the invaders. Of course, alternatively, this might play out like the Kosovo war, where a few months of bombing saw the government surrender the province. But in that case, only a province was in play. In this case, although focused ostensibly on the east, Gadhafi in effect is being asked to give up everything, and the same with his supporters — a harder business.

In my view, waging war to pursue the national interest is on rare occasion necessary. Waging war for ideological reasons requires a clear understanding of the ideology and an even clearer understanding of the reality on the ground. In this intervention, the ideology is not crystal clear, torn as it is between the concept of self-determination and the obligation to intervene to protect the favored faction. The reality on the ground is even less clear. The reality of democratic uprisings in the Arab world is much more complicated than the narrative makes it out to be, and the application of the narrative to Libya simply breaks down. There is unrest, but unrest comes in many sizes, democratic being only one.

Whenever you intervene in a country, whatever your intentions, you are intervening on someone’s side. In this case, the United States, France and Britain are intervening in favor of a poorly defined group of mutually hostile and suspicious tribes and factions that have failed to coalesce, at least so far, into a meaningful military force. The intervention may well succeed. The question is whether the outcome will create a morally superior nation. It is said that there can’t be anything worse than Gadhafi. But Gadhafi did not rule for 42 years because he was simply a dictator using force against innocents, but rather because he speaks to a real and powerful dimension of Libya."

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, "Truth"

"It is easier to perceive error than to find truth,
for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen,
while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it."  
-  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Psychology: "We Remember What Is Meaningful To Us"

"We Remember What Is Meaningful To Us"
by the Association for Psychological Science

"We hold many beliefs about memory - for instance, if you study more, you learn more. We are also constantly making judgments about particular instances of learning and remembering - I'll never forget this party! That was easy to understand. I'll ace it on the test. But do beliefs influence judgments, and how do judgments affect memory performance? "There's a disconnect among beliefs, judgments, and actual memory," says Williams College psychologist Nate Kornell. Ask people to predict how or what they will learn and "in many situations, they do a breathtakingly bad job."

Why? A new study by Kornell - with Matthew G. Rhodes of Colorado State University, Alan D. Castel of University of California/Los Angeles, and Sarah K. Tauber of Kent State University - posits that we make predictions about memory based on how we feel while we're encountering the information to be learned, and that can lead us astray. The study will be published in “Psychological Science,” a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers conducted three experiments, each with about 80 participants from teenagers to senior citizens. To test the relationships between "metamemory" - or beliefs and judgments about memory - and performance, they looked at two factors: the ease of processing information and the promise of future study opportunities.

The participants were serially shown words in large or small fonts and asked to predict how well they'd remember each. In one iteration of the experiment, they knew they'd have either one more chance or none to study the words; in another, three more chances or none. Afterwards, they were tested on their memory of the words.

As expected, font size affected judgment but not memory. Because the larger fonts felt more fluently processed, participants thought they'd be easier to remember. But they weren't. The number of study opportunities did affect memory - and the more repetitions, the better the performance. Participants predicted this would be so, but significantly underestimated the improvement additional study would yield. Belief affected judgment, but not much.

In a third experiment, participants were asked questions estimating the influence of font size and study on their learning. They still thought, incorrectly, that font size made a difference. But they were 10 times more sensitive to the number of study trials than in the earlier experiments. This time, they based their answers on their beliefs, not their immediate experiences and judgments.

What fools us? First, "automatic processing": "If something is easy to process, you assume you will remember it well," says Kornell. Second, there's the "stability bias": "People act as though their memories will remain the same in the future as they are right now." Wrong again. Actually, "effortful processing" leads to more stable learning. And "the way we encode information is not based on ease; it's based on meaning." We remember what is meaningful to us. It's unlikely we'll start checking our judgments every time we make one, says Kornell: "That's too slow." So we'll just have to study more than we think we have to. And to preserve memories, we'd be wise to keep a journal.”
- http://www.sott.net/

"How It Really Is"


Bill Bonner, “Fruitlessly Searching for Black Swan Events”

“Fruitlessly Searching for Black Swan Events”
by Bill Bonner

“Black swans…white swans…and big, nasty birds… The weather is beautiful here in Paris. The sun is shining. People are returning to sidewalk cafes. Trees and flowers are beginning to bud out and bloom. Early spring in Paris can be delightful…or horrible. Be sure to pack a warm sweater and a coat…and hope you don’t need them. Prepare for the worst; hope for the best. That is our unofficial motto, here at The Daily Reckoning. Dow plus 178 points yesterday. Oil over $100. The euro is rising (dollar falling). Gold is back at $1,426.

And Warren Buffett is the latest to get on board with our Trade of the Decade – or at least, half of it. Warren likes the buy side. Buy Japan, he says. It’s cheap. But watch out, Warren; the yen is not cheap. You could win on the stocks…and lose on the currency. That’s why we covered both sides in our Trade. Buy Japanese stocks. Sell Japanese bonds. And be prepared to wait. Warren’s recommendation is typically positive and upbeat. He thinks the worst is passed in Japan. He’s now hoping…and expecting…better times. Japan’s stocks are a good deal, he says. You get a lot for your money. Things will improve.

Our view is not exactly cynical, but we don’t think the disasters are finished in Japan. We prepare for the next one. “What,” asked an astonished French colleague. “They’ve had the biggest earthquake ever…the biggest tsunami ever…and a nuclear disaster too? What else could happen…a giant meteor?”

Our friend Nicholas Taleb has added “black swan” to the vernacular. Lately, there are so many of them, we barely have time to recover from the excitement of one black swam before another one bites us on the derriere. There seems to be a whole flock of them. A reporter recently asked a popular analyst “what black swans do you see on the horizon?” Daily Reckoning readers will recognize the absurdity right away. A black swan is something you can’t anticipate. It doesn’t present itself as a possible problem, on the horizon. You can’t see it. Instead, it comes out of the blue, a problem you didn’t imagine at all. But now, the whole world is wasting its time looking in the bulrushes for more black swans.

They would do better to examine the feathers of those snow-white birds in front of us. They’re imposters. They’re frauds. They’re white swan impersonators. They’re really gray, nasty swans…with mean tempers and prone to sudden acts of violence… What do we mean? Well…glad you asked.

For one thing, there is QE2…swimming around…with a bright, new coat of white paint. Here’s the latest from Bloomberg: "Bernanke in Testimony Can Show Ron Paul How QE2 Works in Markets: The next time Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke appears before Congress, here are a few visual aids he can use to show critics that quantitative easing is working: "The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of stocks has climbed 18 percent since he said Aug. 27 that additional asset purchases might be warranted. The risk premium on high-yield, high-risk bonds has narrowed to 5.16 percentage points from 6.81 percentage points, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show. Inflation expectations have jumped by 44.4 percent. The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in almost two years."

So much for 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s assertion that the “dangerous experiment” wouldn’t “magically fix economic problems.” Maybe Bloomberg has its tongue in its cheek. Or maybe it really thinks QE2 is a great success. But the jump in inflation expectations is not necessarily a good thing.

Yes, stocks are up. And yes, so are junk bonds. You put in $100 billion per month; you have to expect something to happen. But what we see is an increase in speculation – and some bouncing around on the hard pan of a Great Correction. And yes, unemployment – as measured by the Labor Department – is down to its lowest level “in almost two years.” But 2009 was hardly a good year for jobs. And there are still 7 million fewer jobs today than there were before the Great Correction began in ’07. No jobs; no income. No income; no shopping. No shopping; no real growth in the consumer economy.

The swan painters say Bernanke’s QE2 has boosted stock prices (right!)…and that higher stock prices increase Americans’ wealth (right again)…and that wealthier people will buy more, leading to real GDP growth (uh…not quite). Relatively few people own stock portfolios. Those who do are aware that stocks go up and down. They’re buying stocks, but they aren’t necessarily convinced that this wealth is spendable; it hasn’t been around that long.

Meanwhile, far more people own houses than stocks. And houses are going down. Here’s the news from Reuters: "Sales of previously owned US homes fell unexpectedly sharply in February and prices touched their lowest level in nearly nine years, implying a housing market recovery was still a long off. The National Association of Realtors said Monday sales fell 9.6 percent month over month to an annual rate of 4.88 million units, snapping three straight months of gains. The percentage decline was the largest since July. The median home price dropped 5.2 percent in February from a year earlier to $156,100, the lowest since April 2002. “If the price declines persist, even with the job market recovery, that could hamper recovery in the housing market,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. Let’s see, nearly an entire decade of house price gains have been wiped out. Now one out of 7 houses in Nevada is empty! And next month begins the next big wave of resets, recasts, and foreclosures."

Is QE2 a happy, nice, white swan? Could it have a black heart? Maybe this swan is harmless, but we wouldn’t get too close. We’ll return to this tomorrow…and to Japan, which faces a Godzilla bird of its own…”

"Adversity"


E.J. Dionne Jr., "A Bet on Japan"

"A Bet on Japan"
by E.J. Dionne Jr.

Washington - "Your initial impression of a country is often hard to shake. Late on my first night in Japan in the 1990s, I was staring out the window of my room on a high floor of a downtown Tokyo hotel. What I saw was a vast, sprawling, modern city of twinkling lights that radiated human and technological energy. And then I imagined the same scene in 1945. In his magnificent book "Embracing Defeat," about Japan in the wake of World War II, John W. Dower quotes the first foreign journalist to enter Tokyo after the armistice.

"Everything had been flattened," Russell Brines wrote. "Only thumbs stood up from the flatlands - the chimneys of bathhouses, heavy house safes and an occasional stout building with heavy iron shutters." Dower picks it up from there: "The first photographs and newsreel footage from the conquered land captured these endless vistas of urban rubble for American audiences thousands of miles away who had never really grasped what it meant to incinerate great cities." Dower notes that nationwide, close to 9 million people were homeless. What has stayed with me since that night is a sense of the extraordinary achievement of the Japanese people in the years since the war's end. Yes, Japan has been in the doldrums for quite a while. But if the country has hit stasis, it is stasis at a remarkably high level. Every time I read about Japanese decline, my reaction is, "Maybe, but ..."

The next morning, I met up with a Japanese friend, an ardent advocate of reform in the country's politics and habits. I could not resist telling him that looking out that window, I had been struck by what the Japanese postwar system had made possible and that if I were a Japanese citizen, I'd probably be skeptical of the reformers. How could you not question whether the promises of reform would live up to the accomplishments of the previous half-century? In ribbing my reformer friend, I had stumbled upon one of Japan's core problems: It has, simultaneously, been clamoring for change and worried it would backfire.

It's thus not surprising that ever since Japan was hit by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, I have identified completely with all the commentary about Japan's "resiliency." If ever there was a comeback-kid sort of country, this is surely it. But there has been an undercurrent of doubt. Would this catastrophe really unleash the transformation Japan has sought for so long? Or would it instead symbolize the inevitable waning of a once powerful nation that finds itself the victim of a stagnating population and a political and economic system allergic to reform and transparency?

My bet is on a rebound, partly because I have always had trouble buying into a view popular among Japan's critics of a society made up of a mass of regimented conformists defined by an unease with outsiders and a smoldering nationalism. This overlooks strong dissenting strains that have long animated Japanese life. They have produced cultural experimentation alongside political paralysis and a remarkable capacity for openness and adaptation in a society so often described as closed. A Foreign Policy magazine writer a decade ago could speak of Japan's "Gross National Cool" because of the country's gift for absorbing the influences of a globalized culture and influencing it in turn. Without this capacity, Japan could not have reinvented itself so brilliantly after total defeat in war. It would not have been so hospitable to foreign influences, starting with baseball and jazz, rock and liberal democracy.

Of course this paradoxical society has always confounded outsiders. Seen in the early 1980s as potentially dominating the world, Japan, not long after, was widely thought of as broken. With Japan, it seems, there is always a whiplash in perceptions. It poses a special problem for prognosticators, optimistic and pessimistic alike.

And so far, Japan's political and corporate leaders have not risen to this crisis, witness the impatience of its own people and the rest of the world over the flaws in the official information about conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. But political and social change comes from below and not just from above. The spontaneous forms of solidarity and inventiveness that Japan's triple tragedy has called forth suggest a society that has lost neither its resourcefulness nor its organizational gifts. Looking out that window more than a decade ago, I found it hard to bet against Japan. I still do."
E.J. Dionne's e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
Hat tip to Alex Noble for this material.

"Rich vs Poor: 14 Funny And Not So Funny Statistics"

"Rich vs Poor: 14 Funny Statistics And 14 Not So Funny
Statistics About This 'Economic Recovery'"
by the Economic Collapse Blog

“Today there are two very different Americas.  In one America, the stock market is soaring, huge bonuses are taken for granted, the good times are rolling and people are spending money as if they will be able to "live the dream" for the rest of their lives.  In the other America, the one where most of the rest of us live, unemployment is rampant, a million families were kicked out of their homes last year and hordes of American families are drowning in debt.  The gap between the rich and the poor is bigger today than it ever has been before.  In fact, this article is not so much about "rich vs poor" as it is about "the rich vs the rest of us".  Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke keep touting an "economic recovery", but the truth is that the only ones that seem to be benefiting from this recovery are those at the very top of the economic food chain.

Below you will find 14 funny statistics about this economic recovery and 14 not so funny statistics about this economic recovery.  Actually, if you find yourself deeply struggling in this economy you will probably not find any of the statistics funny.  In fact, you will probably find most of them infuriating.  After all, there are very few people that actually enjoy hearing about how well the rich are doing when they are barely able to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

In any event, the 28 statistics below show the stark contrast between the "two Americas" that share this nation today.  Many liberals will likely try to use these statistics as an example of why we should tax the rich.  But handing more money to the government is not going to magically create more jobs for the poor.  What the American people desperately need are good jobs, and many liberals don't seem to understand that.  Many conservatives will likely try to use these statistics as evidence that "capitalism" is working.  But the truth is that what we have in the United States today is not capitalism.  Rather, it is more aptly described as "corporatism", because money and power is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of gigantic corporations that individuals and small businesses simply cannot compete with.  The truth is that when wealth is concentrated at the very top it does not "trickle down" to the rest of us.  In the old days the wealthy at least were forced to hire the rest of us to run their factories and their businesses, but with the advent of globalism that isn't even true anymore.  Now they can just move their factories and businesses overseas to places where they can legally pay slave labor wages to their employees.

Very large concentrations of money and power are almost always bad for the prosperity of average citizens.  Our founding fathers never intended for our central government to have so much power and they never intended for giant corporations to have so much power.  But we have abandoned the principles of our founding fathers. When large concentrations of power (whether governmental or corporate) are allowed to flourish, it almost becomes inevitable that the gap between the rich and the poor will grow.  We are seeing this happen all over the world today.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that any of this is going to change any time soon.  In the United States, both the federal government and multinational corporations are constantly attempting to grab even more power.  It has gotten to the point where individual Americans really don't have much power left at all. In any event, hopefully you will find the following statistics informative or at least entertaining.  The wealthy are most definitely enjoying an "economic recovery" while most of the rest of us are still really struggling...

Funny - Who said that the titans of Wall Street couldn't look hot?  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, facelifts for men jumped 14 percent last year.

Not Funny - According to the U.S. Labor Department, unemployment actually increased in 351 of the 372 largest U.S. cities during the month of January.

Funny - The average bonus for a worker on Wall Street in 2010 was only $128,530.  It appears that more Wall Street bailouts may be needed.

Not Funny - During this most recent economic downturn, employee compensation in the United States has been the lowest that it has been relative to gross domestic product in over 50 years.

Funny - According to DataQuick Information Systems, the sale of million dollars homes rose an average of 18.6 percent in the top 20 major metro areas in the U.S. in 2010.  But is spending a million dollars on one house really worth it?  After all, over the past several years there have been times when you could buy a house in some bad areas of Detroit for just one dollar.

Not Funny - In 2010, for the first time ever more than a million U.S. families lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number is expected to go even higher in 2011.

Funny - According to Moody's Analytics, the wealthiest 5% of households in the United States now account for approximately 37% of all consumer spending.  Most of the rest of us don't have much discretionary income to spend these days, but at least we have Justin Bieber, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars to keep us entertained.

Not Funny - According to Gallup, the U.S. unemployment rate in mid-March was 10.2%, which was virtually unchanged from the 10.3% figure that it was sitting at exactly one year ago.

Funny - According to the Wall Street Journal, sales of private jumbo jets to the ultra-wealthy are absolutely soaring... Sales of private jumbo jets are so strong that Airbus and Boeing now have special sales forces devoted to potentates and the hyper-rich.

Not Funny - There are now over 6.4 million Americans that have given up looking for work completely.  That number has increased by about 30 percent since the economic downturn began.

Funny - Porsche recently reported that sales increased by 29 percent during 2010.  Even Porsche jokes are coming back into style...
Question: Why did the blonde try and steal a police car?
Answer: She saw “911” on the back and thought it was a Porsche.

Not Funny - Approximately half of all American workers make $25,000 a year or less.

Funny - Cadillac recently reported that sales increased by 36 percent during 2010.

Not Funny - According to the U.S. Energy Department, the average U.S. household will spend approximately $700 more on gasoline in 2011 than it did during 2010.

Funny - Rolls-Royce recently reported that sales increased by 171 percent during 2010.

Not Funny - According to a new study by America's Research Group, approximately 75 percent of all Americans are doing less shopping because of rising gasoline prices.

Funny - According to the New York Post, Barack Obama enjoyed a total of 10 separate vacations that stretched over a total of 90 vacation days during the years of 2009 and 2010.  Apparently Barack Obama was not talking about himself when he told the American people the following... "If you’re a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, or you might put off a vacation."

Not Funny - When 2007 began, 26 million Americans were on food stamps.  Today, an all-time record 44 million Americans are on food stamps.

Funny - Ralph Lauren reported a 24 percent increase in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2010.  It is good to know that preppies are thriving in this economy.

Not Funny - The Ivex Packaging Paper plant in Joliet, Illinois is shutting down for good after 97 years in business.  79 good jobs will be lost.  Meanwhile, China has become the number one producer of paper products in the entire world.

Funny - Luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. recently announced that their profits increased by 29 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.  All of the men that did not buy their women jewelry during the holidays are trying to keep this particular news item from getting passed around.

Not Funny - Average household debt in the United States has now reached a level of 136% of average household income.

Funny - In 2009, only 18,288 vehicles with a price tag of $100,000 or more were sold in the United States.  In 2010, 32,144 such vehicles were sold.  It appears that "showing off for chicks" is now very much back in style.

Not Funny - The U.S. economy now has 10 percent fewer "middle class jobs" than it did just ten years ago.

Funny - Porsche has announced that they will soon be taking orders for their first hybrid sports car, the 918 Spyder.  The price tag on one of these puppies will only be $845,000.

Not Funny - The average CEO now makes approximately 185 times more money than the average American worker.

Funny - Barack Obama recently played only his 61st round of golf since moving into the White House.  Many are now concerned that Obama is simply not getting enough free time.

Not Funny - According to one recent study, 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line during 2010.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Pueblo Indian Prayer


"Hold on to what is good, even if it's a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe, even if it's a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do, even if it's a long way from here.
Hold on to your life, even if it's easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand, even if someday I'll be gone away from you."

~ A Pueblo Indian Prayer

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Almost every object in the below photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured here is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us.
In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated."
- http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100502.html
•••
"A philosopher once asked, "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them
because we are human?" Pointless, really... ”Do the stars gaze back?" Now that's a question..."
- "Stardust"

Richard Feynman

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself,
 and you are the easiest one to fool.”

- Richard Feynman

Neuroscience: “What the Mayans Can Teach Us About Wind Turbines”

“What the Mayans Can Teach Us About Wind Turbines”
by Rebecca D. Costa

“Something is happening to us. All of us. And it's happening at the same time. We've lost our ability to solve our most dangerous problems: skyrocketing debt, terrorism, natural disasters, nuclear proliferation, faltering education, the rapid depletion of the Earth's resources. Despite having more technology, knowledge and wealth than at any time in history, every advanced nation has become gridlocked. How have we arrived at this point? The answer comes from the most unlikely of sources, 152 years ago. When Charles Darwin discovered the slow pace at which living organisms adapt to change, he inadvertently stumbled upon the reason that civilisations stall and eventually collapse.

Simply put, human beings are a 'work in progress'. So, at any point in time there is a biological limit to the levels of complexity we can discern and manage. When we reach that limit, progress comes to a standstill. In other words, we can only progress as far and as fast as evolution has equipped us to. The uneven match between human evolution, which is slow, and the rapid rate at which societies advance, eventually causes every civilization to reach an impasse.

My book, “The Watchman's Rattle,” named after an 18th Century wooden device to warn of an impending emergency, describes what occurs as we approach the limits of the cognitive abilities.

The first sign is gridlock. Leaders and governments become unable to solve chaotic problems. The unsolved problems then migrate from one generat ion to another, growing in magnitude and peril until, according to Dr Joseph Tainter in his book, "The Collapse Of Complex Societies," the problem is upon us and no resources or number of smart people can stop the avalanche.

The second symptom occurs as we begin to substitute facts with unproven beliefs. When the facts surrounding a problem become too complex to discern, we make decisions based on what we believe to be true. Like a swimmer trapped in an undertow, we believe that if we simply step up our efforts and swim harder toward the shore, we will prevail against the current. No data, information, or facts will deter us from our conviction  -  not even the threat of death.

Take climate change, terrorism or the global recession as examples. In each case it has become difficult to separate fact from fiction. For every report that says one thing, there's equally compelling evidence pointing in the opposite direction. Even with the most experienced experts in the world available, Tony Blair and George W. Bush got the facts wrong about the existence of 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq. As a result, Britain and America found themselves going to war based on a 'belief' that had been presented as fact.

This isn't unusual. As complexity grows, we become increasingly belief-driven and public policy takes on irrational characteristics. In the case of the Mayans, as drought conditions worsened, their leaders abandoned rational man-made remedies such as building reservoirs and underground cisterns, and turned to worshipping objects for their supposed magical powers. The same confusion over facts and beliefs also occurred as the Roman Empire, Ming Dynasty, Khmer and Egyptian civilisations began their descent. The modern-day equivalent is best illustrated by our failure to find an alternative to oil. Instead, we build wind turbines which are inefficient, expensive and do not solve the problem.

What can we do to stop this repetitive downward spiral? The first step is for leaders to find short-term fixes until a permanent remedy can be implemented. Among physicists it is common knowledge that increased complexity leads to higher rates of failure. So as our problems become more complex, the number of wrong solutions begins to outnumber the right ones. As complexity escalates, the chances that we will make the right call diminish.

Fortunately, we have models that allow us to succeed in spite of high rates of failure. Take venture capital for example. For every 100 companies a venture capitalist invests in, he expects 90 will fail or produce minimal results. Yet the ten per cent that succeed produce such spectacular windfalls, they easily make the failures worthwhile. Similarly, when faced with a problem where no amount of due diligence will improve the odds of pinpointing the right solution, we need leaders who are prepared to act quickly on multiple fronts. Many of their efforts might not be effective but the handful of solutions that succeed could be enough to stop a problem in its tracks. For every 100 companies a venture capitalist invests in, he expects 90 will fail or produce minimal results. Yet the ten per cent that succeed produce such spectacular windfalls, they easily make the failures worthwhile

When faced with a complex, highfailure environment, a wide diversity of solutions assures the greatest probability of success. This is why we don't invest all our retirement money in a single stock, we spread our investments. When faced with a complex environment where there are many more wrong choices than right ones, we have no choice but to hedge our bets. At the same time, we must raise our threshold for wasted effort and spending.

Effective mitigation might buy us time, but what about a permanent solution? Here is where modern Man has the greatest reason for optimism. For the first time, neuroscientists are able to observe how our brains respond when we encounter problems. We are quickly discovering what causes the human brain to load content faster, improve memory, and we are garnering clues about what happens when we experience a sudden breakthrough: an 'aha' moment, or 'insight'.

Although in its infancy, neuroscientists are developing brain fitness tools that show measurable improvements in problem-solving, memory and spatial perception. We have discovered that the human brain is much more likely to have a breakthrough when it is producing alpha waves; the kind that occur when we are meditating. 'The relaxation phase is crucial,' says cognitive neuroscientist Dr Mark Jung-Beeman, noting that some of our best thinking is done while we're half asleep. According to Dr Joydeep Bhattacharya, psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, one of the predictors of insightful thinking is the appearance of alpha waves in the right hemisphere of the brain. These allow the brain to respond to new ideas and information by encouraging the mind to 'wander.'

Dr Karuna Subramaniam of the University of California, discovered that participants in a positive mood solved more problems, and specifically more with insight, compared with participants who were in a less positive mood. What are these scientists trying to tell us? We often become our own worst enemy when it comes to deploying insightful thinking. It's like trying to fall asleep when we know we have a big event the next morning. The more we try to force ourselves to relax, the more anxious we become.

This same conundrum applies to insight. Trying to force ourselves to have an insight doesn't work. In fact, the more we try, the less likely insight is to appear. Pressure, stress, judgment and negative attitudes all inhibit insightful problem-solving. By unravelling the mysteries of the brain in this way, modern Man will have the opportunity to unlock the shackles that have kept human progress tethered to evolution.

Whereas traditional problem-solving methods become overwhelmed by complexity, insight soars right through chaos, much like a hyperefficient editor who instantly isolates essential knowledge from irrelevant facts. And in this respect, 'insight' can be viewed as Nature's gift: a brilliantly efficient way to cut through thousands of variables and multiple wrong solutions, and produce a correct and elegant answer."