Saturday, May 28, 2011

Offline and away, back soon.

 Holiday weekend and such, I'll be away and offline for a few days. 
Commenting is disabled to deter those pesky comment live link spammers.
Be safe, folks, and be kind to each other, we're all we have.
See you soon... - CP
 

CoyotePrime, "The Tipping Point? A Cautionary Tale from the Future"

"The Tipping Point? A Cautionary Tale from the Future"
 by CoyotePrime

“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”
 - Frederick Douglass

On the morning of June 4, 2012, Mr. Elite stands at the window of his home in Beverly Hills, glancing casually at the groundskeepers tending to the magnificently sculptured landscape of impeccably manicured flowers, trees, shrubs and green grass surrounding the estate. He notices their foreman, Manuel, supervising the crew, and notes with satisfaction that Manuel has been a loyal employee for many years. What else does he think about Manuel? Nothing. Nothing at all. Does he know Manuel the father and husband, the loving provider for his family, the man who pays his taxes, worries about educating his children, fears crime, and has hopes and dreams for a better life for his children than he had? No, none of these thoughts enter Mr. Elite's mind- why should they? Because Manuel, and all those not in Mr. Elite's world view, are simply one dimensional characters acting out their assigned roles, not real human beings like Mr. Elite and his class. Of course Mr. Elite has never spoken personally to Manuel, or any of his workers- why? They were phantoms, servants, nothing more. Mr. Elite’s thoughts returned to his investments, and wondering if the fools in Washington would actually dare to tax him at a higher rate...

You see, Mr. Elite, like all of us, was born and raised in the value system of his family. His value system consisted of being taught from childhood that he, and they, were rightfully and naturally privileged to have and experience whatever their immense wealth could provide, in his case, literally anything he wanted or desired. Considerations of cost never entered his mind, nor were there any limits to what could be done or had. Skiing in Switzerland? Why not?  Time constraints- none- why? Isn't the world there to be enjoyed at our whim? We, after all, own it, don't we? And everyone in it, who exist only to serve us, satisfy our wants and demands, it's the natural order of things, are WE not entitled? The answer was perfectly obvious to Mr. Elite, though it might have eluded some others not so fortunate.

Manuel's family upbringing, like that of most, was somewhat different. Though poor, his parents worked hard, raised their children as best they could, knew pain and suffering and loss, and grew stronger from the experiences. They didn't cry or complain about their station in life, instead lived within their means while hoping for a better tomorrow. These values they passed to Manuel and his brothers. None of them dreamed of skiing anywhere, it simply wasn't a realistic part of their world view, and they happily settled for Disneyland on those rare occasions they could afford to take their families on vacation. When he was hired as a gardener by Mr. Elite’s household manager he did his best, and soon became foreman of the crew, an achievement he felt rightfully proud about. His brothers, meanwhile, had been employed for many years at a manufacturing plant owned by one of Mr. Elite’s subsidiary corporations, though that was about change, in a very bad way.

Mr. Elite and his Board of Directors, you see, had decided that the very large bank statement numbers on their computer screens weren't large enough, so they decided that off-shoring his companies and jobs to Asia made economic sense, allowing a far higher profit margin than they could anticipate with greedy American workers who were always demanding raises and benefits, the ingrates. Several thousand workers lost their jobs in the transition, but so what? They're not like us, after all, their little lives have no real meaning in our world...

Manuel’s two brothers were among those fired when Mr. Elite's companies moved to Asia. It wasn’t just them, of course. All over the country the pattern had repeated itself, factories and companies closing to be sent overseas where the highest return on their dollar could be had by the investors and owners. Honorable, hard working men and women did what they could to find other jobs, unsuccessfully. They watched, helplessly, as gradually their homes were foreclosed, the lives they'd built unravel and slip away, and their children went hungry. They saw their neighbors become homeless, and could do nothing to help them. They felt the fear and pain, saw the tears in their loved ones eyes, and wondered how and why it had all gone so wrong. Of course, Manuel’s brothers had no idea who Mr. Elite was, or the effects his actions had caused on their lives. They were just angry, and getting angrier by the day.

It seemed everywhere that countless similar scenes were playing out as millions of Americans lost their jobs, while profits and wealth exploded for those fortunates like Mr. Elite, who, after all, deserved these rewards as a rightful consequence of his privileged position. What matter these small people and their insignificant lives, he thought, if he thought about them at all. Profits are up 23% over the same quarter last year! Now that's progress, he mused happily.

Reeling from higher budgets and costs, first cities then states were slowly being strangled as their tax bases crumbled while costs increased. The Federal government had given the large banks over $23 trillion in loans and guarantees to save them from failure; no such aid was offered to the rest of the country, which slowly sank into despair as cities and states cut services, raised taxes, and desperately tried to avoid the defaults and bankruptcies so common among the citizens.

There were now millions of homeless, 40 million children living below the "poverty line", unemployment benefits expired with no hope for a job, the elderly on fixed incomes choosing between food and the medicines they needed to stay alive. Suffering was everywhere, and there seemed no hope for anything better. Despair was common, resulting in higher crime rates, more domestic violence and murder, higher drug and alcohol use and offenses. The financial default of the United States government in February had followed that of a number of European countries, adding enormous uncertainty and much higher inflationary prices to the burdens of many already unable to bear them. No one knew what to do anymore it seemed, except to relieve the pain in any way they could. Slowly, from the ashes of despair something else grew, quietly, a smoldering rage at finally beginning to understand what had happened, and, human nature being what it is, the idea of finding out who if anyone might have been responsible for it all... someone, anyone, to blame.

On the morning of June 4, 2012 an event occurred that became a tipping point, the spark of an astonishing social change. 19 year old Daniel “Bo” Thompson, an African-American living in Watts in the city of Los Angeles, attempted a strong arm robbery of an elderly man. To his surprise the victim resisted fiercely, screaming for help, which prompted a number of nearby residents to rush to the scene. “Bo” Thompson panicked and ran, pursued by several larger men until they caught and savagely beat him. Arriving police found Thompson bloody and unconscious, and called for emergency medical transport to carry him to a nearby hospital. A large crowd had by this time gathered, most of them unaware of the true situation. What they saw was the bloody condition of Thompson, and, believing it to be the fault of the police, bottles and bricks soon began pelting the officers, who hid behind their squad cars while calling for assistance.

Arriving officers were met with the same debris barrage, and drew their weapons in fear of further attack. Among the newly arrived reinforcements was rookie Officer Damian Murtaugh, with less than a year of service to his credit. Dodging thrown debris, Officer Murtaugh later told Internal Affairs investigators what had happened. Among the raging crowd surrounding the police was one William Higgins, the uncle of Daniel “Bo” Thompson. Higgins, furious at seeing his nephew in such a bloody condition, rushed towards the police cruiser in which Thompson had been placed, and behind which Officer Murtaugh was hiding from the flying debris. What Officer Murtaugh saw was an enraged civilian rushing towards him with a shiny metallic object in his hand. Screaming for Higgins to stop, and in fear for his life, Officer Murtaugh fired several rounds into the chest of William Higgins, killing him instantly. Higgins fell dead in the street, and the shiny metal object rolled from his hand... a silver Coors Light beer can.

The crowd, seeing the shooting, instantly went berserk with rage, and a full blown riot began, not only at the scene, but all over the city as word of the killing spread, a storm of long pent up rage finally exploding into a horrifying nightmare of fire and destruction. By noon the heavily armed gangs in the city had joined the fray, attacking police wherever they could be found. By evening they had fought, and won, several pitched battles against police and newly arrived National Guard troops. In the larger cities across the country similar rioting occurred spontaneously, and soon the entire country reeled from fire and destruction. That evening the police deserted en masse, preferring to be at home protecting their own families, and the mauled National Guard hurriedly withdrew from the conflict, leaving anarchy and murderous madness behind. The anarchy and madness would not remain long within the city, however.

In an attempt to quell the unrest the Mayor of Los Angeles had ordered the electric grid shut down, hoping that darkness would force rioters to return to their homes. The opposite actually occurred, and the mayhem intensified and spread overnight. At dawn on day 2 the rioters, inspired by their conquests of the police and National Guard, began fanning out from the city core to surrounding areas in search of food, water, valuables, and revenge. With no one left to stop them, many fortified by heavy drinking and cocaine use, thousands of heavily armed men rampaged through the suburbs, looting, raping and killing at will. Soon, they were at the Beverly Hills gates of the home of Mr. Elite.

It was in the early evening, and it was the last day of his life, though Manuel had no clue of that. He’d heard of the rioting, seen it on television, but like most had believed it an isolated and contained affair. As he watched in horror the massive gates to the estate were repeatedly rammed by a truck until they crashed inward, followed by hundreds of terrifying looking men, firing weapons in the air and screaming incoherently. As he fell backwards, in shock and disbelief, he thought how much his chest hurt, where several AK-47 rounds had just entered him. As his vision dimmed he gazed at the mob running past him, seeing his own brothers among them, as crazed as the rest, and then he saw and thought no more...

Mr. Elite stood at his office window in horrified disbelief, looking at a scene from Hell itself- on his grounds!- hearing the doors to the house being smashed in, and knowing there was nowhere to escape to. This cannot be happening, he thought, not to us! Don’t they know who we are? How dare they? This is impossible! It was then his office door was flung open, and Mr. Elite met, very briefly, with another reality than the one he’d known his whole life...

Across the country the rioting continued for several weeks until, finally exhausted, most participants returned to their homes. The damage was incredible, the loss of life far worse than any could have imagined. Rightly or wrongly, nationwide the “elite” and wealthy had been pursued and hunted down, blamed for the suffering so many others had endured for so long, and paying with their lives for generations of perceived insult. The new military government in Washington made clear it had no intention of allowing further disturbances. A series of publicly televised summary executions had the desired effect, and gradually, under martial law and military patrols, an uneasy order was returned to the country. Most of the citizenry were grateful for the calm and peace of their new social order, no matter the cost in discarded civil liberties. And so it happened, sometime in the future...
Author's Note:  An actual revolution- a nation wide organized insurrection-  isn’t possible in this day and age of government surveillance. However, current trends and the ongoing financial crisis in this country suggest that a scenario of this type is all too possible, even probable. It does not have to happen, however, if enough people are willing to engage in steps that will reverse these trends with specific actions to prevent outsourcing of jobs to other countries; demand a full disclosure public audit of the Federal Reserve; begin a meaningful reform of banking practices in terms of loan practices and illegal foreclosures; begin a real full investigation of alleged financial crimes by the “Too Big to Fail banks,” with accompanying prosecutions and punishments for those guilty of violations; voting for reform political candidates who are committed to greater compassion and social justice; an ending of America’s “wars” and reduction of Defense Department spending, which is now over a trillion dollars a year; and so on and on. The established system is totally corrupted and rigged in favor of the wealthy, while the majority have been left to struggle through as best they can. This must change, and quickly, or the above fiction may well become a reality some day. - CP
Many thanks to Alex Noble for the title suggestion and the invaluable editing of this piece.

John Foster Dulles, "Lasting Peace"

“The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war
the finest human qualities. Peace, no less than war, requires idealism
and self-sacrifice and a righteous and dynamic faith.”
- John Foster Dulles

Memorial Day: “For the Fallen”

“For the Fallen”
by Laurence Binyon

"Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labor of the day-time;
They sleep beyond their country’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.”

- Laurence Binyon,
“For the Fallen” (adapted)
We honor their sacrifice and service.

"How It Really Is"


Lord Byron, "Truth"

“'Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction.”
- Lord Byron

Psychology: "How To Persuade Stubborn People"

"How To Persuade Stubborn People"
by George Washington

"As anyone who has tried to educate people with facts knows, it is very difficult to persuade stubborn people. New research sheds some light on this frustrating dynamic. As NPR noted last July: "New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that's not what happens, that we base our opinions on beliefs and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere to our original belief even more strongly. The phenomenon is called backfire, and it plays an especially important role in how we shape and solidify our beliefs on immigration, the president's place of birth, welfare and other highly partisan issues.

It's threatening to us to admit that things we believe are wrong. And all of us, liberals and conservatives, you know, have some beliefs that aren't true, and when we find that out, you know, it's threatening to our beliefs and ourselves. This isn't a question of education, necessarily, or sophistication. It's really about, it's really about preserving that belief that we initially held."

As I pointed out in March: Psychologists and sociologists show us that people will rationalize what their leaders are doing, even when it makes no sense... Sociologists from four major research institutions investigated why so many Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, years after it became obvious that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The researchers found, as described in an article in the journal "Sociological Inquiry" (and re-printed by Newsweek): "Many Americans felt an urgent need to seek justification for a war already in progress. Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe. "For the most part people completely ignore contrary information. The study demonstrates voters' ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information"

People get deeply attached to their beliefs, and form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in their personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter. "We refer to this as 'inferred justification, because for these voters, the sheer fact that we were engaged in war led to a post-hoc search for a justification for that war. "People were basically making up justifications for the fact that we were at war" "They wanted to believe in the link [between 9/11 and Iraq] because it helped them make sense of a current reality. So voters' ability to develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information, whether we think that is good or bad for democratic practice, does at least demonstrate an impressive form of creativity.

An article in Alternet discussing the Sociological Inquiry article helps us to understand that the key to people's active participation in searching for excuses for actions by the big boys is fear: "Subjects were presented during one-on-one interviews with a newspaper clip of this Bush quote: "This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaeda." The Sept. 11 Commission, too, found no such link, the subjects were told.

"Well, I bet they say that the commission didn't have any proof of it," one subject responded, "but I guess we still can have our opinions and feel that way even though they say that." Reasoned another: "Saddam, I can't judge if he did what he's being accused of, but if Bush thinks he did it, then he did it." Others declined to engage the information at all. Most curious to the researchers were the respondents who reasoned that Saddam must have been connected to Sept. 11, because why else would the Bush Administration have gone to war in Iraq? The desire to believe this was more powerful, according to the researchers, than any active campaign to plant the idea. Such a campaign did exist in the run-up to the war...

He won't credit [politicians spouting misinformation] alone for the phenomenon, though. "That kind of puts the idea out there, but what people then do with the idea ... " he said. "Our argument is that people aren't just empty vessels. You don't just sort of open up their brains and dump false information in and they regurgitate it. They're actually active processing cognitive agents"...

The alternate explanation raises queasy questions for the rest of society. "I think we'd all like to believe that when people come across disconfirming evidence, what they tend to do is to update their opinions," said Andrew Perrin, an associate professor at UNC and another author of the study... "The implications for how democracy works are quite profound, there's no question in my mind about that," Perrin said. "What it means is that we have to think about the emotional states in which citizens find themselves that then lead them to reason and deliberate in particular ways." Evidence suggests people are more likely to pay attention to facts within certain emotional states and social situations. Some may never change their minds. For others, policy-makers could better identify those states, for example minimizing the fear that often clouds a person's ability to assess facts ...

The Alternet article links to a must-read interview with psychology professor Sheldon Solomon, who explains: "A large body of evidence shows that momentarily [raising fear of death], typically by asking people to think about themselves dying, intensifies people's strivings to protect and bolster aspects of their worldviews, and to bolster their self-esteem. The most common finding is that [fear of death] increases positive reactions to those who share cherished aspects of one's cultural worldview, and negative reactions toward those who violate cherished cultural values or are merely different."

Conservative Frank Luntz and liberal George Lakoff have used the principles of neuroscience to show that facts are less important in persuading many people than "framing". This is an important subject to learn about, to become a more effective communicator. In the meantime, however, there may be an easier shortcut for persuading stubborn people. Specifically, start by asking the following question: Do you want to defend your feelings and beliefs or do you want to know the truth? Most people will respond by saying "I want to know the truth, of course". They will say that because they don't want to appear irrational, even if they usually are.

You can then start conveying facts, but repeatedly be sensitive to their feelings of resistance to the challenging facts you're presenting, by saying things like: "I found this hard to believe when I heard it, too;" "I know this is contrary to what we've been taught;" "I know it would be [painful or scary or infuriating or other adjective conveying a negative emotion] to believe that [the thing they don't want to hear about]." And if they are resisting hearing the facts, gently remind them that they said they wanted to know the truth.

If you don't use these techniques, then the stubborn person's automatic and unconscious processes will ensure that he or she will cling to old belief system no matter what you say. Remember, while you may be able to think logically, many people make most of their decisions based on emotions and faulty belief systems. Assuming that everyone uses the same decision-making process you do is the main impediment to going beyond preaching to the choir and persuading others. There is some percentage of people who will never believe the facts, no matter how you say it. Sometimes it is best just to drop it. But the above-described techniques may work on a large percentage of stubborn people."

Bill Bonner, “Things Get Curiouser and Curiouser”

“Things Get Curiouser and Curiouser”
by Bill Bonner

“As if it were not strange enough! Microsoft bought a phone company with no phones for $8.5 billion. Then, the public bid up the price of another Internet company, LinkedIn, to the point where buyers were paying more than $20 for every dollar of revenue that came the company’s way. As for profits, they capitalized each one at more than 700 times. At this rate, an investor wouldn’t earn his money back until 2,711AD. He will need luck. People don’t usually live that long; especially crazy people.

But oddities are so common now; it is as if every man you pass on the street had two heads. One out of every four American homeowners owes more on his house than it is worth. Even in desert cities, such as Las Vegas, more than 70% are underwater. Nationwide, house prices are down 33% from their peak and still falling at 1% per month. That is, the typical homeowner loses about as much on his house as he takes home from his job.

And last week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested. Who can deny that we live in a remarkable era? Odder than the charge against him was the fact that he was locked up for it. Bankers are used to getting bonuses for that sort of thing. On DSK’s watch, the IMF’s loans outstanding increased 10 times. Poor Greece was stuck with another $42 billion it couldn’t possibly repay. But at least he took the Greeks to dinner!

Richard Nixon changed the world’s monetary system back in 1971, cutting off the dollar from gold. He did it on prime time television. But the US dollar had been a reliable store of value for so long, few people imagined anything else. Only a few hard-bitten cynics, philosophers and monetary historians noticed that something very important had happened. They rolled their eyes and bought gold with both hands.

Allowed to persist, novelty becomes familiarity. Pretty soon, people begin to think that the extraordinary is normal; as for the normal, it begins to seem weird. The new system wobbled for the first 10 years, and then found its footing. Now, 40 years later, it is standing fast. It seems normal. But of all today’s oddities, nothing is odder. If the gold bugs thought the system was headed for destruction in ’71, they should see it now! In ’71, the money base – as measured by the holdings of the US Federal Reserve bank – was only $800 billion. And it had taken nearly 60 years to get there. Yet, just since 2008, the Fed has ballooned its balance sheet up 200% to $2.5 trillion.

In ’71, the US government seemed to have thrown caution to the winds, with a deficit of $23 billion. Fiscal conservatives gasped and clutched their hearts. They’d better sit down, because today the deficit is expected to top $1.6 trillion this year alone, up 7,000%. Debt per working person rises at the rate of $115 per working day – about what the typical worker takes home. And yet, the yield on a 10-year US Treasury note was around 6% in 1971. Today, wonder of wonders, it is only 3.13%, as if US finances had improved over the last 4 decades!

Putting ’71 and ’11 side by side you have to admit that one is strange. But which one? Surviving gold bugs – viewing these facts through their bifocals, perhaps from the comfort of their retirement homes – have begun to twitch. The price of gold has risen every year for the last 11 years. But even now, what is remarkable about the gold price is not that it is so high, but that it is so low. It is barely ordinary. Adjusted for inflation, gold sells for less today than it did in 1980. To match its previous high – set when the US ran its penultimate budget surplus and Paul Volcker had already begun to tighten credit – the price would have to climb into the mid-$2000s. But did 1981 justify a $2,500 gold price (in today’s dollars) or does 2011?

Neither quantitative easing nor the Internet had been invented in Nixon’s time. The Internet was advertised as a triumph over abnormality. With the world’s wealth of wisdom at one’s fingertips there was no further reason for mankind to err in sin and darkness. He had merely to turn on the WWW to light his way. Want to know what quantitative easing is all about…or how previous episodes of printing press money, un-backed by gold, have turned out? You have only to consult Wikipedia. It’s free. Just look for previous examples of successful pure-paper money systems. You won’t find them. Because the gold bugs were probably right all along; removing the gold from the world’s money system is almost sure to be a prelude to disaster. It is just a matter of time. Perhaps lots of time.”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, "Show Your Soul"

"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires ... causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others - both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Shiny NGC 253 Galaxy, is one of the brightest spiral galaxies visible, and also one of the dustiest. Some call it the Silver Dollar Galaxy for its appearance in small telescopes, or just the Sculptor Galaxy for its location within the boundaries of the southern constellation Sculptor. First swept up in 1783 by mathematician and astronomer Caroline Herschel, the dusty island universe lies a mere 10 million light-years away. About 70 thousand light-years across, NGC 253 is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest to our own Local Group of Galaxies. 
Click image for larger size.

In addition to its spiral dust lanes, striking tendrils of dust seem to be rising from a galactic disk laced with young star clusters and star forming regions in this processed color image. The high dust content accompanies frantic star formation, giving NGC 253 the designation of a starburst galaxy. NGC 253 is also known to be a strong source of high-energy x-rays and gamma rays, likely due to massive black holes near the galaxy's center.”

Paul Valéry, "Of Sound Mind"

“A man who is "of sound mind" is one who keeps 
the inner madman under lock and key.”

- Paul Valéry, 
“Mauvaises Pensées et Autres”, 1942

Kahlil Gibran, "The Madman"

 "The Madman"
by Kahlil Gibran

"It was in the garden of a madhouse that I met a youth with a face pale and lovely and full of wonder. And I sat beside him upon the bench, and I said, “Why are you here?”
And he looked at me in astonishment, and he said, “It is an unseemly question, yet I will answer you. My father would make of me a reproduction of himself; so also would my uncle. My mother would have me the image of her seafaring husband as the perfect example for me to follow. My brother thinks I should be like him, a fine athlete. And my teachers also, the doctor of philosophy, and the music-master, and the logician, they too were determined, and each would have me but a reflection of his own face in a mirror. Therefore I came to this place. I find it more sane here. At least, I can be myself.”
Then of a sudden he turned to me and he said, “But tell me, were you also driven to this place by education and good counsel?”
And I answered, “No, I am a visitor.”
And he answered, “Oh, you are one of those who live in the madhouse on the other side of the wall...”

Archaeology: “A Stonehenge Under Lake Michigan?”

“A Stonehenge Under Lake Michigan?”
by ZME Science

“While scanning underneath the waters of Lake Michigan for shipwrecks, archeologists found something a lot more interesting than they bargained for, as they discovered a boulder with a prehistoric carving of a mastodon, as well as a series of stones arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner. At a depth of about 40 feet into Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, using sonar techniques to look for shipwrecks, archeologists discovered sunken boats and cars and even a Civil War-era pier, but among all these they found this prehistoric surprise, which a trained eye can guess by looking at the sonar scans photo:
"When you see it in the water, you're tempted to say this is absolutely real," said Mark Holley, a professor of underwater archaeology at Northwestern Michigan University College who made the discovery, during a news conference with photos of the boulder on display in 2007. "But that's what we need the experts to come in and verify.”

The boulder with the markings is 3.5 to 4 feet high and about 5 feet long. Photos show a surface with numerous fissures. Some may be natural while others appear of human origin, but those forming what could be the petroglyph stood out, Holley said. Viewed together, they suggest the outlines of a mastodon-like back, hump, head, trunk, tusk, triangular shaped ear and parts of legs, he said. "We couldn't believe what we were looking at," said Greg MacMaster, president of the underwater preserve council.

Specialists shown pictures of the boulder holding the mastodon markings have asked for more evidence before confirming the markings are an ancient petroglyph, said Holley. "They want to actually see it," he said. Unfortunately, he added, "Experts in petroglyphs generally don't dive, so we're running into a little bit of a stumbling block there." If found to be true, the wannabe petroglyph could be as much as 10,000 years old - coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest. The formation, if authenticated, wouldn't be completely out of place. Stone circles and other petroglyph sites are located in the area.

The discovery was made back a few years ago, and surprisingly enough the find hasn't been popularized at all, with little to no information available online, but I'll be sure to update this post as soon as I can get a hold of more info. So, who's from Michigan?”
- http://www.sott.net/

“The Weather Phenomena Causing 2011's Tornado Explosion”

“The Weather Phenomena Causing 2011's Tornado Explosion”
by Fast Company

“From April 25 to 28, 2011, a fierce and deadly storm system produced a total of 327 confirmed tornadoes in 21 states from Texas to New York, and even isolated tornadoes in Canada. Alabama was struck particularly hard. These April 2011 tornadoes killed at least 344 people people in the Southeast, Midwest, and Northeast. Then--on May 22, 2011--the deadliest single tornado since 1953 struck Joplin, Missouri, with at least 124 people now confirmed dead and more than 1,000 people reportedly injured. Shortly before the tornado struck Joplin, EarthSky spoke to meteorologist Jeff Masters of Weather Underground. He explained some of the science that has caused these fierce 2011 tornadoes in the U.S.

In particular, he said, the location and strength of the jet stream played a role. "The jet stream, which is that powerful river of air aloft over the country, turned out to be very strong this year. It had very high wind speeds in it. And it was moving over tornado alley, where we tend to get cold, dry air from Canada colliding with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of those contrasting air masses, and then the very powerful jet stream, was just the perfect storm of conditions to make a lot of tornadoes."

Is climate change making tornadoes more deadly? That's less clear: "On the one hand, we would expect that a warmer climate would bring warmer temperatures and potentially warm moisture in the atmosphere, enhancing instability." Instability, explains Masters, is what happens when large masses of cold air from Canada high in the atmosphere create updrafts, which can be up to 10 miles high. These unstable conditions can lead to deadlier tornadoes. But that's not the whole story. Again, the jet stream plays a vital role: "Climate change is expected to weaken the jet stream. And that's a key ingredient for making tornadoes. You need to have a really strong jet stream that changes velocity and speed with altitude in order to put a shearing force on those updrafts, to get them spinning, so that they become tornadoes. So it's unclear what's going to happen in the end."

In other words, the verdict is still out on whether climate change will create more deadly tornadoes, and, at this time, there is no evidence that it will. If climate change isn't causing these deadly tornadoes, what is happening? "Every 30 or so years, you do see a violent tornado outbreak like this one, where you get 10 or more of these strong, or even violent tornadoes that have wind speeds of over 150 miles per hour. These outbreaks typically occur in the Midwest, and in the southeast, like we saw in April 2011. The last really bad outbreak like this was in 1974, and that ended up killing about 315 people. What that says to me is that this 2011 outbreak was really remarkable."

But when Masters looks back to last year, 2010, he does see some remarkable weather and climatic conditions that have no precedent over the past 150 years of weather history: "2010 was tied for the warmest year on record, globally. It had the most extreme circulation in the Arctic on record. And that extreme circulation allowed some cold air to spill southward, causing some of these incredible snowstorms that we had - for example, 'snowmageddon' or two feet of snow in Baltimore. That extreme Arctic circulation also allowed some of the warmest temperatures ever observed in the Arctic to occur in the winter. We had kind of an upside-down winter in North America. Canada had its warmest winter on record, and driest, in 2009 and 2010. But the U.S. had its coldest winter in 25 years. Now that's really strange.

"Another weird thing happened in 2010. We had the wettest year on record, globally, over land areas. We had the quietest global hurricane season on record. Normally, we get about 92 tropical storms, globally. But in 2010 we had only 68 of these. That speaks to me that the entire weather circulation of the atmosphere is doing some very unusual and unprecedented things. And that's the kind of thing you would expect to observe if the climate were starting to transition to a new state. So I don't think every year is going to be as extreme and wild as this one. But I think the odds of those kind of years happening in the future will be steadily increasing."
- http://www.sott.net/

The Daily "Near You?"

Savannah, Georgia, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

“Flourishing in Crisis”

“Flourishing in Crisis”
by JGrace

“Now is the moment to start. Imagine a pathway through the thick underbrush of world events and manipulations where we, the loving inhabitants, the good, the decent, those with conscience, vision, hope and longing can come together in a dialogue of honest evaluation, fearless in facing what is happening. Once we understand what is taking place on earth, and lose the last of our illusions, real adult dream-building can begin. Let us hold hands to have the strength to get past our denial, fears, anger, blame, grieving in a world that is seemingly falling apart. Imagine that we can flourish. Now in a world full of less, perhaps we can experience more of the best in us, the fulfillment of what we were each created for. Here your dreams are welcomed, your ideas are allowed to develop. Our friendship and harmony will sustain us. I am with you in this process.”

“Avoiding Negative Vibrations: Taking on the Energy of Others”

 “Avoiding Negative Vibrations: 
Taking on the Energy of Others”
by the DailyOm

“In order to protect ourselves from taking on any negative energy from other people or situations we can learn to shield. There are times when you may find that being around certain individuals or groups of people leaves you with feelings of discomfort. It may be that spending time with a particular friend feels draining or that dealing with a specific coworker exhausts you. Being around toxic or angry people is also draining. And you may even find that being surrounded by a crowd of people lowers your energy levels rather than perks you up. This is not that unusual. Each of us radiates energy and is capable of being influenced by the energy of other people. It is important to learn how to shield yourself, so you don’t unknowingly take on someone else’s energy. While some people know how to instinctively protect themselves from being adversely affected by energy, most of us need to discover and practice the technique that works best.

There are a number of ways to avoid being affected by people’s energy. Shielding is one preventative technique you can use. Center yourself and envision being enveloped in a cocoon of loving and protective light. This protective layer should allow you to consciously regulate the energy around you. The intent to shield oneself is all you need for this technique to work. You can even create a trigger word to assist you in quickly creating a shield. Say this word each time you create a new shield, until the word and the shield become automatically associated in your mind. If you run into a person whose energy you find draining, you may want to cleanse your own energy field after your encounter. Sage, cold showers, singing, mineral water baths, spending time in nature, and a simple break to recharge are all ways to accomplish this.

While it is important to know how to shield yourself from energy, there are those energies that you may not want to shut out. The energy of laughter from a newborn baby, the feeling of joy radiating from someone in love, and the frequency of calm emanating from an enlightened teacher are just some of the energies coming from others that you may want to have around you.”

"10 Modern Mind Control Methods"

"10 Modern Mind Control Methods"
 by Nicholas West

“The more one researches mind control, the more one will come to the conclusion that there is a coordinated script that has been in place for a very long time with the goal to turn the human race into non-thinking automatons. For as long as man has pursued power over the masses, mind control has been orchestrated by those who study human behavior in order to bend large populations to the will of a small "elite" group. Today, we have entered a perilous phase where mind control has taken on a physical, scientific dimension that threatens to become a permanent state if we do not become aware of the tools at the disposal of the technocratic dictatorship unfolding on a worldwide scale.

Modern mind control is both technological and psychological. Tests show that simply by exposing the methods of mind control, the effects can be reduced or eliminated, at least for mind control advertising and propaganda. More difficult to counter are the physical intrusions, which the military-industrial complex continues to develop and improve upon.
   
   1. Education - This is the most obvious, yet still remains the most insidious. It has always been a would-be dictator's ultimate fantasy to "educate" naturally impressionable children, thus it has been a central component to Communist and Fascist tyrannies throughout history. No one has been more instrumental in exposing the agenda of modern education than Charlotte Iserbyt - one can begin research into this area by downloading a free PDF of her book, "The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America," which lays bare the role of Globalist foundations in shaping a future intended to produce servile drones lorded over by a fully educated, aware elite class.

   2. Advertising and Propaganda - Edward Bernays has been cited as the inventor of the consumerist culture that was designed primarily to target people's self-image (or lack thereof) in order to turn a want into a need. This was initially envisioned for products such as cigarettes, for example. However, Bernays also noted in his 1928 book, “Propaganda,” that "propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government." This can be seen most clearly in the modern police state and the growing citizen snitch culture, wrapped up in the pseudo-patriotic War on Terror. The increasing consolidation of media has enabled the entire corporate structure to merge with government, which now utilizes the concept of propaganda placement. Media; print, movies, television, and cable news can now work seamlessly to integrate an overall message which seems to have the ring of truth because it comes from so many sources, simultaneously. When one becomes attuned to identifying the main "message," one will see this imprinting everywhere. And this is not even to mention subliminal messaging.

   3. Predictive Programming - Many still deny that predictive programming is real. I would invite anyone to examine the range of documentation put together by Alan Watt and come to any other conclusion. Predictive programming has its origins in predominately elitist Hollywood, where the big screen can offer a big vision of where society is headed. Just look back at the books and movies which you thought were far-fetched, or "science fiction" and take a close look around at society today. For a detailed breakdown of specific examples, Vigilant Citizen is a great resource that will probably make you look at "entertainment" in a completely different light.

   4. Sports, Politics, Religion - Some might take offense at seeing religion, or even politics, put alongside sports as a method of mind control. The central theme is the same throughout: divide and conquer. The techniques are quite simple: short circuit the natural tendency of people to cooperate for their survival, and teach them to form teams bent on domination and winning. Sports has always had a role as a key distraction that corrals tribal tendencies into a non-important event, which in modern America has reached ridiculous proportions where protests will break out over a sport celebrity leaving their city, but essential human issues such as liberty are giggled away as inconsequential. Political discourse is strictly in a left-right paradigm of easily controlled opposition, while religion is the backdrop of nearly every war throughout history.

   5. Food, Water, and Air - Additives, toxins, and other food poisons literally alter brain chemistry to create docility and apathy. Fluoride in drinking water has been proven to lower IQ; Aspartame and MSG are excitotoxins which excite brain cells until they die; and easy access to the fast food that contains these poisons generally has created a population that lacks focus and motivation for any type of active lifestyle. Most of the modern world is perfectly groomed for passive receptiveness - and acceptance - of the dictatorial elite. And if you choose to diligently watch your diet, they are fully prepared to spray the population from the above.

   6. Drugs - This can be any addictive substance, but the mission of mind controllers is to be sure you are addicted to something. One major arm of the modern mind control agenda is psychiatry, which aims to define all people by their disorders, as opposed to their human potential. This was foreshadowed in books such as Brave New World. Today, it has been taken to even further extremes as a medical tyranny has taken hold where nearly everyone has some sort of disorder - particularly those who question authority. The use of nerve drugs in the military has led to record numbers of suicides. Worst of all, the modern drug state now has over 25% of U.S. children on mind-numbing medication.

   7. Military testing - The military has a long history as the testing ground for mind control. The military mind is perhaps the most malleable, as those who pursue life in the military generally resonate to the structures of hierarchy, control, and the need for unchallenged obedience to a mission. For the increasing number of military personal questioning their indoctrination, a recent story highlighted DARPA's plans for transcranial mind control helmets that will keep them focused.

   8. Electromagnetic spectrum - An electromagnetic soup envelops us all, charged by modern devices of convenience which have been shown to have a direct impact on brain function. In a tacit admission of what is possible, one researcher has been working with a "god helmet" to induce visions by altering the electromagnetic field of the brain. Our modern soup has us passively bathed by potentially mind-altering waves, while a wide range of possibilities such as cell phone towers is now available to the would-be mind controller for more direct intervention.

   9. Television, Computer, and "flicker rate" - It's bad enough that what is "programmed" on your TV (accessed via remote "control") is engineered; it is all made easier by literally lulling you to sleep, making it a psycho-social weapon. Flicker rate tests show that alpha brain waves are altered, producing a type of hypnosis - which doesn't portend well for the latest revelation that lights can transmit coded Internet data by "flickering faster than the eye can see."  The computer's flicker rate is less, but through video games, social networks, and a basic structure which overloads the brain with information, the rapid pace of modern communication induces an ADHD state. A study of video games revealed that extended play can result in lower blood flow to the brain, sapping emotional control. Furthermore, role-playing games of lifelike war and police state scenarios serve to desensitize a connection to reality. One look at the WikiLeaks video “Collateral Murder” should be familiar to anyone who has seen a game like “Call of Duty.”

  10. Nanobots - From science fiction horror, directly to the modern brain; the nanobots are on the way. Direct brain modification already has been packaged as "neuroengineering." A “Wired” article  from early 2009 highlighted that direct brain manipulation via fiber optics is a bit messy, but once installed "it could make someone happy with the press of a button." Nanobots take the process to an automated level, rewiring the brain molecule by molecule. Worse, these mini droids can self-replicate, forcing one to wonder how this genie would ever get back in the bottle once unleashed. Expected date of arrival? Early 2020s.

A concerted effort is underway to manage and predict human behavior so that the social scientists and the dictatorial elite can control the masses and protect themselves from the fallout of a fully awake free humanity. Only by waking up to their attempts to put us to sleep do we stand a chance of preserving our free will.”
- http://www.sott.net/

"How It Really Is"

Good luck, graduates...

Hunter S. Thompson, "There Are Times..."

"There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It's a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat s**t and die. Who knows? If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing... And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there. Missing. Back-ordered. No tengo. Vaya con dios. Grow up! Small is better. Take what you can get...”
- Hunter S. Thompson

“The Door is About to Shut for Americans”

“The Door is About to Shut for Americans”
by The Dollar Vigilante

“Anyone aware of the US Government's real financial situation knows that time is running out.  The Government has $15.5 trillion in admitted debts but those debts, when calculated under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), or 'honest accounting', is over $70 trillion.  $70 trillion divided by 300 million+ Americans works out to $233,000 per person in US Federal Government debt and obligations.  Or nearly $1 million per family of four. That does not included personal debt, state debt or municipal debt. This debt plus an economy that has been completely hollowed out by the Federal Reserve system ensures that there is no way the US Government can ever pay off this debt.  And, everyone knows it.

The indications that the US Government is moving very quickly to enact any legal measure or fine against Americans and to make it nearly impossible for any American to escape payment to pay for their sins are everywhere. We recently commented on how It Is now Easier to Enter the US Than It Is To Leave.  Customs agents and cash sniffing dogs stand on guard at most international US airports checking to make sure no one has more than $10,000 in cash without declaring it.  The standard response to this is: "They are only making it difficult for criminals to move about and to transfer money". Well, the problem is, the US Government is moving very quickly to make it so almost everyone is seen as a criminal in the eyes of the US legal system.

Now We Are All Criminals: It is already said that there are so many laws, rules and regulations in the US that each person in the US breaks at least one law per day, if not much more - without even knowing it.  But the US Government is becoming more obvious in how it will go about making everyone a criminal and fining them ridiculous amounts of money in doing so. This week, an American family who said they were just trying to teach their son about responsibility and entrepreneurship was fined $90,000 by the USDA because the teenager sold $4,600 worth of bunnies in one calendar year without a license.  Not only were they demanded to pay $90,000, but if they did not pay within a short period of time the fine could increase to as high as $4 million. This one case only goes to show how easy it is, within the system, to take any small transgression and to blackmail someone for, for all intents and purposes, every penny they have - or more.

Students to be Forced into the Military to Repay Debts: We also recently commented on how the US college system draws people into large debts (Debtucation) and how student debt is now larger than credit card debt in the US.  It is the US Government itself that has made college education so expensive by offering student loans to anyone who can fog a mirror but again they have shown their intentions by making student loan debt the only debt which can not be forgiven.  A 2005 decree from the Bush Administration stated that student loan debt could not be dissolved through bankruptcy proceedings. The only other scenario where this “no-escape” clause exists is debt from criminal acts and debt from fraud.  In other words, student loan debt is seen, by the US Government, as being similar to proceeds from crime!

What will this mean with more young Americans in student loan debt than any other time?  It's anyones guess but it would not be out of the realm of possibility to force students who can not pay off their debt into the military to repay their debt. And with the US military with 800 military bases worldwide with US military personnel in 156 countries and US Military bases in 63 countries and currently occupying or attacking Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and with other drone operations in places like Yemen and Pakistan, the US is all but ensuring that it is screwing around in enough places to eventually draw in one of the big boys.  Russia, China or Iran. And, hey, we Gotta Support the Troops, right?

US Government Eyeing Pensions and Retirement Funds: On the other end of the spectrum, seniors and those in retirement, the US Government recently made it very obvious that funds held in retirement accounts are going to be the first to be taken when times get tough. In the recent scuffle over raising the debt ceiling, the US Government was short of some funds after reaching the United States' $14.3 trillion debt ceiling last Monday.  Where was the very first place the US Government went to find new sources of funds?  Last week they dipped into state pension funds in order to make payments. It is no great leap to think that as things worsen in the US Government's financial situation, which is all but guaranteed, that the first thing that will be nationalized will be all tax sheltered retirement accounts.  After all, we all have to do our part to pay for the debts of the Government, right?

Anyone living off of US pensions should be very worried.  And anyone with significant funds in retirement accounts should be running, not walking, to get any funds they can outside of the direct control of the US Government.  We recommend looking at "Unleash Your IRA", a great program for diversifying your IRA internationally.

Get a 2nd Passport: There are two ways to look at the upcoming battle between the US Government and US citizens.  You can stay and fight or you can run and hide. If you plan to stay and fight we wish you good luck and will try to support your efforts in any way we can.

If you would rather run and hide then one of the first things you should be looking to do at this time is to at least get a second passport.  This is still legal for Americans and there are many options.  We discuss many of them, regularly in our newsletter. As well, if you have the financial capability, we highly recommend buying some foreign real estate - preferably somewhere you like to live.  Our favorite place, at the moment, is La Estancia de Cafayate in Argentina (email them for more information at tdv@lec.com.ar).

2011 Last Year to Get Out: Most things are still legal in the US.  It is still legal to have foreign bank accounts - although you are required by law to report them to the Government.  It is still legal to get a second passport.  It is still legal to move assets in your IRA outside of the country.  It is still legal to move money outside of the country and buy foreign real estate. The window of opportunity is closing.  If you live in the US and still have all your assets inside of the US, you likely have months, not years, to internationally diversify your assets and to get your affairs in order.  Anything much after 2011 is taking a big risk of losing it all.

The Government Can: After all, we, as individuals have to live within our means and it is considered a crime if we forcibly take money from others to pay for our debts.  The Government, on the other hand?  The Government can.”

James Howard Kunstler, “Get Real;” A Comment

“Get Real”
By James Howard Kunstler

“Americans gathered around the hearth of CBS’s "60 Minutes" must have been bemused to hear reporter Scott Pelley announce self-importantly that the US Department of Justice is investigating Lance Armstrong’s bicycling team for performance-enhancing drug use. Does it really matter if any pro athlete takes drugs? Why not throw Babe Ruth out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for drinking sixteen beers the night before a World Series opener? Or Ditto Mickey Mantle for that, plus smoking two packs of Marlboros in the dugout during every game.

Notice that Scott Pelley did not announce that the US DOJ is investigating Goldman Sachs, or Citi, or Merrill Lynch, or Bank of America or several other so-called banks for looting the American public and influence-peddling in the halls of government. Or the SEC and the CFTC for failing to regulate the trade in frauds and swindles. The window for that sort of action is closing, and with it the reasonable hopes of citizens in the legitimacy of institutions that manage things.

The failures in journalism are now so stupendous that there are only a few possible explanations:

1. The major media, hard pressed by declining revenues and the extremes of competition on cable TV and the Internet, are in thrall to corporate advertisers who expect cheerleading for the status quo in return.
2. Major media editors and producers – the officer corps of journalism – are not smart enough to tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not and can’t run their newsrooms.
3. Mainstream media only reflects the cognitive dissonance that pervades the collective imagination of a culture – too much noise to think coherently.
4. We really don’t want to know what’s going on – it’s too scary.
5. Sometimes a generation of leaders just fails.

For those of you interested in a digest of reality, here’s what’s going on:

• The global energy predicament really is a crisis, even though nobody is currently lining up at the gasoline pumps. It’s a crisis because peak oil is for real and oil is the primary resource of advanced economies, and there are no miracle rescue remedies (“drill, drill, drill,” shale oil, shale gas). Peak oil means that we can’t increase supply in relation to still-growing demand, which creates disturbances in the energy markets. Peak oil also leads directly to a crisis of capital (money), because a nation (an economy) that can’t get increasing energy “inputs,” can’t create more wealth, can’t generate more loans (debt), and most importantly can’t expect what we’ve come to think of as normal economic growth. This creates further disturbances and distortions in financial markets.

• Without that sort of growth you get stagnation and then contraction. We’re probably past the stagnation phase and into contraction. We tried to compensate for stagnation (and conceal it) by allowing the financial part of the economy grow from 5 percent of all activity to over 40 percent of all activity. In the process, banking changed from a boring utility aimed at directing capital into legitimate investment (highly regulated) to a swashbuckling realm of unregulated swindles having nothing to do with real capital allocation but rather aimed at the sales of worthless “innovative products” (CDOs, et cetera), the creaming off of huge transaction fees, the use of computers to game exchanges, colossal carry trades between banks and public treasuries (you borrow money at zero percent – for free! – and invest it in paper that pays, say, 2.5 percent and keep rolling it over), and let’s not forget pervasive accounting fraud practiced by government and private business to the degree that money matters are now completely opaque and dishonesty can run rampant. After a while, nobody can have faith in the way things work, and that is a dangerous situation because it leads to political problems. The ultimate question is: how does a society manage contraction?

• One way to think about it is to stop using the word “growth” and substitute the term “economic activity.” There are lots of useful things we can do to rearrange daily life in the USA that would put people to work, but they would tend to defy the status quo. We could recognize that peak oil means that we have to grow our food differently and make local agriculture a more up-front piece of the economy. We could rebuild the railroads so that people don’t have to drive everywhere. We could rebuild our inland ports to move more bulk freight on boats. Notice these are very straightforward activities, unlike the manipulation of financial paper and markets. We’re not interested in focusing on agriculture and transport reform. Business and political interests are arrayed against changing anything. Something’s got to give.

• Political problems arise when many people in a society lose faith that their institutions are competent, trustworthy, and fair, and seek ways to bring them down. We’re in a political crisis and we don’t know it. Other parts of the world know it, and more of them are finding out every day. Yesterday was Spain’s turn, as the governing party took a beating in local elections and unemployed young people moiled in the city squares. Many of them probably expected to work in corporate jobs. They may end up back on the farm or in the cork orchards. The rest of Europe has a lot to sort out, too, and after a half-century of being the world’s fairly-tale theme park, the terms of daily life have suddenly changed. The tensions between the requirement to adjust to change and the resistance to change will produce all kinds of disorder within and between the different nations of Europe. It will be hard to believe as it occurs, but essentially each nation, or region, will be thrown back on whatever resources it can muster, and that will be very difficult.

• The trouble in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is probably not so much over abstract ideas about “freedom” and “democracy” (we flatter ourselves to think so) as food scarcity and the pressures of exploding populations. The OCED nations might not care so much if this region didn’t produce so much of the world’s precious oil – but it does, of course, so we can’t help but meddle in the politics there. I would not bet on continued stability of the type that has prevailed for decades, and by that I just mean the expectation that regular supplies of oil will get to the market. The USA is pissing away vast money resources to keep these supply lines open. We’ve made an enemy of Persia (Iran) and they want to rule the region, so we are trying to make a baloney sandwich out of them with garrisons east and west in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s not working so well. Now, Persia is making noises about establishing missile bases in Venezuela. They may overstep on that one. Pay attention. China has a deep interest in keeping the oil supply lines open, and it’s possible, if the wells, pipelines, and terminals are not wrecked by whatever happens next in MENA, that China will get some oil even if we don’t. They offer engineering aid; we just send guys in desert camo with night-vision goggles and guns. Japan, you can possibly forget about. I maintain that they will be going medieval, especially now that they’ve foresworn further nuclear power development.

• If the US is politically nervous, it is not showing a whole lot at the moment, but there is so much potential for financial havoc and economic hardship that I have a hard time imagining the 2012 election will play out as many suppose – another red-blue pie-eating contest bought-and-paid-for by Wall Street. We’re cruising straight into some kind of money crisis that is going to spin heads. This isn’t the first time I’ve said we could wake up one morning and find a Pentagon general in charge of things. If US economic history is any rule, Barack Obama would just be plain un-reelectable. But would anybody really vote for such a bumbling, glad-handing Babbitt non-entity as Tim Pawlenty? The things that really could tip the USA over are boring issues like interest rates and currency values – and the rule of law in money matters. They can’t compete for sex appeal with Lance Armstrong and whoever the latest incarnation of Lindsay Lohan is these days.”
A comment: Kunstler makes a number of valid points, but I disagree with his core premise that the media has failed us in not telling us the factual truth, and here's why. The answer lies here: "4. We really don’t want to know what’s going on – it’s too scary." The media can only fail us if we expect it to deliver factual content that helps us understand how and why conditions are what they are. Certainly they intentionally lie, distort and barrage us constantly with disinformation, at the direction of their (and our) corporate and "Elite" masters. Those few among us requiring truth instead of sound bites and propaganda are of course disappointed, and view this as a failure of the media to live up to our expectations. I argue that the media is quite successful in delivering its mandated goals of pacifying the sleeping masses with the nonsense and idiocy they truly crave- distraction and entertainment, Twitter and Facebook- and that the failure is OURS, as a society, to demand more than "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," or "American Idol", or the countless "judge" shows shown all day long. As the "X-Files" so famously stated, "The truth is out there." It is, but to find it requires effort, time and diligence, none of which the American public seems to have the slightest interest in investing in discovering things they really don't want to know anyway. The media is only doing what it must, under the guidance of its masters, a fact we must realize while still condemning their complicity in making and keeping us ignorant, careless, dumbed down. The truly tragic failure is ours for not demanding far better, the truth, from them, and our lack of informed moral courage to use real truth to change our society into something far better than what it's become. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Now there's a truth... - CP

John Quiggin, “The Economics of Unhappiness”

“The Economics of Unhappiness”
By John Quiggin

“For at least the past decade, there has been a boom in work on the economics of happiness. But recalling Tolstoy's famous opening lines in Anna Karenina, I've always wondered why we don't study the economics of unhappiness instead. After all, we have so much more data.

The American tradition is to enshrine economic activity as a central element of "the pursuit of happiness." In reality, however, economic activity is largely concerned with the relief of unhappiness. At the subsistence level of economic activity that has prevailed through most of human history, people must work to eat and to be clothed and housed, not so that they can enjoy the happiness that these goods can bring but so that they can avoid the pain of hunger, cold, and exposure to the elements. In developed economies, most of us can assuage these fundamental sources of unhappiness. But whether because of drives inherent in our nature or because of the constant efforts of advertisers and others, we seem destined to remain unhappy with our economic lot.

Despite the burgeoning literature on happiness, and the contributions of prominent economists such as Richard Easterlin, Richard Layard, and Andrew Oswald, the general response of the mainstream English-language literature in economics has been to shrug and leave questions of this kind to psychologists and marketers. However, there is some interesting discussion going on in Europe, and a couple of recently translated works might help to stir the debate.

First up is Tomas Sedlacek's "Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning From Gilgamesh to Wall Street" (Oxford University Press, 2011), a surprise best seller in the original Czech and with a glowing foreword by Václav Havel. More than half of the book is devoted to the economic views of the ancients, starting with the Sumerians, but Sedlacek's closest engagement is with Adam Smith. A primary concern is what Joseph Schumpeter called "Das Adam Smith problem." That is, how to reconcile the Adam Smith of "The Wealth of Nations"—the advocate of the benefits of self-interest celebrated by Adam Smith clubs, Adam Smith tie pins, and the like—with Adam Smith the advocate of sympathy as the foundation of social order in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." This is a problem that has been tackled from many angles but never before, I suspect, based on an interpretation of the epic of Gilgamesh.

The core issue is not so much evil in general but the desire for more of everything, traditionally stigmatized as "greed" or "avarice" in Christian thought, but viewed more positively as "aspiration" in modern times. Sedlacek inclines to the Christian view and even more to that of the Stoics, that "we have to be satisfied with what we have, and that happiness can be found precisely in that." But, as he observes, that is hard advice to live by, and even more so in the modern world. Views about life and its possibilities, about good and evil, are fundamentally altered in a society characterized by economic growth as compared with the essentially static economic possibilities of the ancient and medieval worlds. Arguably, it is precisely the experience of economic growth that distinguishes the economists of the Enlightenment era (most notably the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave us Smith) from their pre-modern forebears.

From early times—say, 2,000 years before Christ—down to the beginning of the 18th century, there was no very great change in the standard of life of the average person living in the civilized parts of the world. Ups and downs, certainly. Visitations of plague, famine, and war. Golden intervals. But no big progressive shift. Some periods perhaps 50 percent better than others—at the utmost 100 percent better—in the 4,000 years that ended roughly in AD 1700.

The realization that life had changed fundamentally was reflected in the 17th- and 18th-century disputes between advocates of the ancients' values and those of the moderns. Supporters of the ancients, represented most effectively by Jonathan Swift in his "Battle of the Books," scored some rhetorical points but couldn't obscure the evidence of intellectual and scientific progress. By the middle of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was under way, and the era of economic growth had begun.

Sedlacek's book is fascinating, but it leaves us with more questions than answers. His discussion of premodern thought persuades us that the willy-nilly pursuit of more of everything is misguided. But he fails to convince us that "being satisfied with what we have" is an adequate goal for modern humanity. In a world where change, both good and bad, is inevitable and pervasive, cultivating a position of stoical detachment, and an ideal of stasis, seems something of a cop-out.

How, then, should a constructive modern stoic seek to live? To the extent that stoicism involves freeing oneself from irrelevant attachments to material goods, technological progress provides us with more options, as John Maynard Keynes observed in his "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren." (This is a title that reads somewhat ironically today. Even though the grandchildren of Keynes's generation are the grandparents or great-grandparents of today, we have made no progress at all in freeing ourselves from the frantic pursuit of economic gains that he hoped would become obsolete.) But taking advantage of the opportunities provided by developments like the Internet without being seduced by the appeal of ever more intricate gadgetry remains a challenge most of us find difficult.

In recent writings gradually being translated from the original Italian, Stefano Bartolini offers some possible alternatives to a consumption-driven society. Although the work is presented as a Manifesto for Happiness, Bartolini begins, as is necessary, with a focus on the central role of unhappiness in economic life. He argues that growth in the economy is driven by negative, self-reinforcing externalities; that is, economic interactions among people that are not mediated by markets or voluntary exchange. One class of externalities arises from positional aspects of consumption, or, more plainly, "keeping up with the Joneses." To the extent that social relationships depend on relative consumption levels, an increase in consumption by one individual or family places pressure on others.

This need not be a matter of superficial envy or aspiration. For example, at a college where few students own cars, social interactions will necessarily take place on or near the campus, and will typically involve relatively limited expenditures. But if many students own cars, they can socialize in nightclub districts or other off-campus venues. Not only are students without cars disadvantaged in terms of access, but the new entertainment options are likely to be more expensive. So there is pressure to take on part-time or even full-time jobs to finance the expenditures required for participation in the social life of the college. That reduces even further the chance to participate in a more traditional on-campus culture.

The other class of externalities considered by Bartolini are those associated with environmental degradation. That problem has been dealt with extensively in the literature on environmental economics, and was the motivation for Arthur Pigou's development of the externality concept, in the 1920s. An externality is a benefit or cost to one individual or firm, arising from the economic activity of another, that does not arise from a market transaction between the two. The classic example is that of environmental pollution, in which a factory can pour smoke into the atmosphere without compensating its neighbors or obtaining their agreement.

Bartolini's contribution is to observe the potentially self-reinforcing nature of a process by which people seek to insulate themselves from the consequences of environmental degradation through the acquisition of yet more material goods. A contemporary example, though one of primarily symbolic importance, is the plastic from plastic water bottles discarded by consumers trying to avoid impure water. Bartolini points to the broader problems created when tourists from wealthy industrialized countries seek to escape to "uncontaminated places and tropical paradises," often destroying what they came to find.

In the first part of his manifesto, Bartolini argues for a focus on relationships as the antidote to a materialist culture. In particular, and in common with many proponents of similar arguments in the past, he sees the industrialized education system as a fundamental part of the problem, and a more humane "relational" approach to education as central to the solution. He argues for an education based on the intrinsic enjoyment of learning and creation, rather than the extrinsic goals of money, jobs, and social status. He does not propose a political path by which such a transformation can be achieved, but promises one in writing yet to be translated.

Consider, though, that if the question of how to live a good life has challenged us since ancient times, and the unprecedented technologies of today have complicated that conundrum, the matter remains something of a luxury in a world where a billion or more people still live in the most extreme poverty despite endless labor. For the moment, the question of justice in global distribution remains at least as urgent as that of optimal production and consumption among the affluent."
 •
John Quiggin is a professor of economics at the University of Queensland, in Australia, a columnist for "The Australian Financial Review," a blogger for Crooked Timber, and the author of "Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us" (Princeton University Press, 2010).
Hat tip to Alex Noble for this material.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Emily Kimbrough, "We All Stumble"

“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us.
That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.”

- Emily Kimbrough

"A Look to the Heavens"

“On some nights, the sky is the best show in town. On this night, the sky was not only the best show in town, but a composite image of the sky won an international competition for landscape astrophotography. The above winning image was taken two months ago over Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lake in Iceland. The photographer combined six exposures to capture not only two green auroral rings, but their reflections off the serene lake. 
 Click image for larger size.

Visible in the distant background sky is the band of our Milky Way Galaxy, the Pleiades open clusters of stars, and the Andromeda galaxy. A powerful coronal mass ejection from the Sun caused auroras to be seen as far south as Wisconsin, USA. As the Sun progresses toward solar maximum in the next few years, many more spectacular images of aurora are expected.”

“Is Fukushima Now Ten Chernobyls Into the Sea?”

“Is Fukushima Now Ten Chernobyls Into the Sea?”
by Harvey Wasserman

“New readings show levels of radioisotopes found up to 30 kilometers offshore from the on-going crisis at Fukushima are ten times higher than those measured in the Baltic and Black Seas during Chernobyl. "When it comes to the oceans, says Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceonographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, "the impact of Fukushima exceeds Chernobyl."  The news comes amidst a tsunami of devastating revelations about the Fukushima disaster and the crumbling future of atomic power, along with a critical Senate funding vote today:

Fukushima's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has confirmed that fuel at Unit One melted BEFORE the arrival of the March 11 tsunami. This critical revelation confirms that the early stages of that melt-down were set in motion by the earthquake that sent tremors into Japan from a relatively far distance out to sea.

Virtually all of Japan's 55 reactors sit on or near earthquake faults.  A 2007 earthquake forced seven reactors to shut at Kashiwazaki.  Japan has ordered shut at least two more at Hamaoka because of their seismic vulnerability. Numerous reactors in the United States sit on or near major earthquake faults. Two each at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, California, are within three miles of major fault lines.  So is Indian Point, less than 40 miles from Manhattan.  Millions of people live within 50 miles of both San Onofre and Indian Point.  On January 31, 1986, the Perry reactor, 35 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie, was damaged by an earthquake rated between 5.0 and 5.5 on the Richter Scale- orders of magnitude weaker than the one that struck Fukushima, and that could hit the sites in California, New York and elsewhere around the globe. 

TEPCO has confirmed that at least three of the Fukushima reactors- Units One, Two and Three- have suffered at least partial fuel melts. In at least one case, the fuel has melted through part of the inner containment system, with molten radioactive metal melting through to the reactor floor. A wide range of sources confirm the likelihood that fission may still be proceeding in at least one Fukushima core.  The danger level is disputed.  But it clearly requires still more commitment to some kind of cooling regime that will send vast quantities of water into ocean.

At least one spent fuel pool- in Unit Four- may have been entirely exposed to air and caught fire. Reactor fuel cladding is made with a zirconium alloy that ignites when uncovered, emitting very large quantities of radiation.  The high level radioactive waste pool in Unit Four may no longer be burning, though it may still be general.  Some Fukushima fuel pools (like many in the United States) are perched high in the air, making their vulnerability remains a serious concern.  But a new report by Robert Alvarez indicates the problem in the US may be more serious that generally believed.   

Unit Four is tilting and may be sinking, with potentially devastating consequences.  At least three explosions at the site have weakened critical structures there.  Massive leakages may have softened the earth and undermined some of the buildings' foundations.  Further explosions or aftershocks- or a fresh earthquake- could bring on  structural collapses with catastrophic fallout. TEPCO has now confirmed that there are numerous holes in the containment covering Unit Two, and at least one at Unit One.  The global nuclear industry has long argued that containments are virtually impenetrable.  The domes at Fukushima are of very similar design and strength as many in the US.  The health impacts on workers at Fukushima are certain to be devastating.

After Chernobyl, the Soviet government sent more than 800,000 draftees through the seething wreckage.  Many stayed a matter of 90 seconds or less, running in to perform a menial task and then running out as quickly as possible. Despite their brief exposure, these "liquidators" have suffered an epidemic of health effects, with an escalating death toll.  Angry and embittered, they played a significant role in bringing down the Soviet Union that doomed them. 

At Fukushima, a core of several hundred workers essentially sacrificed themselves in the early stages of the disaster.  They courageously entered highly contaminated areas to perform tasks that almost certainly prevented an even worse catastrophe. David Brenner, the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, said of the workers:  "Those are pretty brave people. There are going to be some martyrs among them'." "I don't know of any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war," said University of Tokyo radiology professor Keiichi Nakaga.

Unfortunately, the toll among Fukushima's workers is certain to escalate.  As few as two in five being sent into the Fukushima complex are being monitored for radiation exposure.  According the Mainichi Shimbun, just 1,400 workers at Fukushima had been given thorough checkups, with just 40 getting their results confirmed. Even at that, Japanese officials have raised the allowable dosages for nuclear workers from 100 millisieverts to 250, five times what's allowed for US workers, and 125 times what reactor workers typically receive in a year. 

Some 88% of Japan's reactor work force are part-timers, sparsely trained and often paid extra money to race into highly radioactive areas and then run out. But Nobuaki Terasaka, head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, May 16 confirmed some 4,956 cases of internal exposure to radiation among workers at reactors around the country.  Of those, 4,766 were originally from Fukushima and had moved to other sites, but had re-visited the prefecture after the 3/11 disaster. Some of the stricken workers believe they were contaminated when they returned home for their families, even though they may have stayed only briefly. Workers at Fukushima itself report spotty testing and dangerous facilities, including a leaky earthquake-resistant building where they took their breaks.  "We had our meals there, so I think radioactive substances came into our bodies," says one male worker.  "We just drink beer and wash them down."

A "dead zone" around Fukushima similar to the one surrounding Chernobyl is likely in the making. According to a report published in the Japan Times, levels of contamination in areas around Fukushima are at least comparable to some around Chernobyl. But people outside the official evacuation zone are also vulnerable.  Radiation detected in Tokyo, nearly 200 miles away, at one point prompted the Japanese government to recommend mothers not use tap water to mix formula for their infants. Nonetheless children have been observed attending schools while bulldozers were removing the radioactive soil from their playgrounds outside.  Amidst global protests, the Japanese government has weakened the limits of allowable radiation exposures to children. 

In the midst of the disaster, the owners of the Indian Point reactors have announced their refusal to upgrade fire protection systems which New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman says are essential. More than 70% of the plant remains unprotected, he says, a "reckless" practice.  Schneiderman accuses federal regulators as being too cozy with the plant's owners.  Schneiderman and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo want the two IP reactors shut.

Over the weekend only four of Germany's seventeen reactors were operating, but the country suffered no apparent energy shortages.  Prime Minister Angela Merkel has ordered seven older reactors shut, and the rest to be closed by 2011.  But six of the newer ten closed for various technical reasons. More than 20,000 Swiss citizens rallied to demand an end to plans to build new reactors there.  The Swiss government has now confirmed it will not build new reactors, another major blow to the industry, this time resulting in the cancellation of plans for at least three projects.  

Japan is standing by its decision to build no more reactors, while China has put some 28 proposed projects on hold.  China's reaction to Fukushima will be crucial to the future of nuclear power, as it is by far the largest potential market for new reactors.  Though prevailing winds head the other way, Fukushima is relatively close to China, and some fallout has been detected there. 

The Obama Administration has still produced no comprehensive monitoring of radioactive fallout coming to the United States and has provided no guidance as to how American citizens can protect themselves, except to say not to worry.   Polls now show more Americans opposing new reactors than favoring them, and grassroots opposition is fierce. But the industry is pushing ahead with demands for $36 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors, with a preliminary vote expected soon in a House Appropriations Subcommittee.  Nuclear opponents are asked to call the White House and Congress steadily through the 2012 budget process. Also, today (May 26) may see a vote in a Senate committee on a CEDA plan that would provide still more money for new nukes.  Safe energy advocates are urged to call their Senators asap.   

The International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations, has announced it sees no health effects at Fukushima.  The pronouncement  comes as no surprise from an agency whose mandate is focused on promoting atomic energy. The IAEA has consistently low-balled death toll estimates at Chernobyl and regularly ignores industry critics.  The pronouncement comes as the agency begins a long-term study of Fukushima's health effects.  Meanwhile, a French watchdog agency has urged that 70,000 more people be evacuated from the Fukushima area. Coming from France, among the world's pro-nuclear nations, the warning is a grim reminded of how deadly the contamination surrounding Fukushima must be.

But for all the focus on land-based contamination, the continuing flood of radioactive materials into the ocean at Fukushima could have the most problematic long-term impacts.  Long-term studies of radiological impacts on the seas are few and far between.  Though some heavy isotopes may drop to the sea bottom, others could travel long distances through their lengthy half-lives.  Some also worry that those contaminants that do fall to the bottom could be washed back on land by future tsunamis.

Tokyo Electric has now admitted that on May 10-11, at least 250 tons of radioactive liquid leaked into the sea from a pit near the intake at Unit 3, whose fuel was spiked with plutonium.  According to the Japanese government, the leak contained about 100 times the annual allowable contamination. 

About 500 tons leaked from Unit 2 from April 1 to April 6.  Other leaks have been steady and virtually impossible to trace.  "After Chernobyl, fallout was measured," says Buesseler, "from as far afield as the north Pacific Ocean." A quarter-century later the international community is still trying to install a massive, hugely expensive containment structure to suppress further radiation releases in the wake of Chernobyl's explosion. Such a containment would be extremely difficult to  sustain at seaside Fukushima, which is still vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis.  To be of any real use, all six reactors and all seven spent fuel pools would have to be covered. But avenues to the sea would also have to be contained.  Fukushima is much closer to the ocean than Chernobyl, so more intense contamination might be expected.  But the high radiation levels being measured indicate Fukushima's most important impacts may be on marine life.

The US has ceased measuring contamination in Pacific seafood.  But for centuries to come, at least some radioactive materials dumped into the sea at Fukushima will find their way into the creatures of the sea and the humans that depend on them.”