Tuesday, May 23, 2017
"Patriot Trump Must Go On Offensive"
By Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com
Financial and geopolitical analyst Warren Pollock says that President Donald Trump has done one very big thing since he’s been in office, and that is he “exposed a gigantic ball of criminal corruption” in Washington. Pollock explains, “I think Trump did the American people a tremendous service. First of all, he blocked the Republican criminals from taking the Presidency. Look at Paul Ryan. He had seven years to work on healthcare, and he’s obviously not interested in doing anything for the American people. The entire panel of Republicans were just part of this great criminal enterprise. One of them would get the Presidency, and he would have been just the latest criminal in charge of the country. The same thing with the Democrats. We had Trump blocking the Democratic criminals from taking the office of the Presidency. We don’t live in a republic. We don’t live in democratic system. These parties are just part of a large system of organized crime. They exempt themselves from the very laws they hold us accountable to. Trump was able to rally the American people and defeat criminals from both sides of the aisle. That’s a major service, and we should be thankful for that. He’s a real patriot, and he made that sacrifice for us. With Trump, they never want to have that happen again. That’s why you see this narrowing of alternative media.”
Some people are saying Trump already is going back on his campaign promises, but that is not how Pollock sees it. Pollock contends, “He tried initially to play ball with the Republicans. He said okay, this guy Pence, I’ll let him be my Vice Presidential running mate. I’ll work with Paul Ryan on healthcare. I’ll let them infiltrate my Cabinet, and he found out that, unlike delegating in his own organization, that he can’t delegate to sociopaths and criminals. So, he finds out that Paul Ryan is in bed with insurance companies, and he was just making noise for the last seven years. That’s what these Republicans do. They go to FOX News and titillate half of the American people, and the Democrats use their news organs, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times, and they titillate their supporters.”
Pollock says Trump has to go on the offensive. Pollock explains, “If he plays spoiler, he will have to go on the offensive, but he’s not going to be able to make America great again. What he’s going to be able to do, if he gets his act together, is to start to take down some of this criminality at a very high level. (There is much more in the video interview.)"
"Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One
with analyst and financial expert Warren Pollock."
with analyst and financial expert Warren Pollock."
"Quality or Quantity?"
By Francis Marion
"This will be a short post. It is a thought for discussion. There are times when I feel and sense in others a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are. The people I can feel it coming from the most are usually those closest to me. My kids for example. My son has been an honors student since elementary school and is now enrolled in the honors program in his high school. But I sense in him a deep unrest with the program. The volume of homework he brings home is astounding. My university workload was less, though not considerably. His complaint being primarily that volume does not equate quality and the heaping on of what is essentially busy work, in his mind, is off the mark. I sense this is the crux of the problem with our society in general.
Most of our problems can be chalked up to volume over quality. Our relationships (see social media), sex, work, social programs and income. All of it.
We see the results of this line of thinking daily. In our economic models, in the rate of human migration required to sustain them and in our day to day living. We over schedule ourselves and our children, living on the assumption that if we don’t “do more” then we will have failed them and they will not become fulfilled, middle-class adults.
But I ask, with all the things we have, with all the things we do, are we fulfilled? A bigger house, more retirement benefits, more free health care, more toys, more friends, more sex (or what passes for it these days), more money (or what we think is money). Has any of it made us happier?
If the answer is no, then what are we training our children to become? If we are teaching them quantity over quality, what are they learning? Consumption over production? Waste over conservation? Desire and petulance over patience and wisdom?
I can see where this is headed. You can see it. Today, I feel powerless to stop it. At times I am like a hamster trapped on a wheel. Spin the wheel or it will spin you.
I don’t want more. I want less. I want better."
“The Eighth Elegy”
"With all its eyes the natural world looks out
into the Open. Only our eyes are turned
backward, and surround plant, animal, child
like traps, as they emerge into their freedom.
We know what is really out there only from
the animal's gaze; for we take the very young
child and force it around, so that it sees
objects - not the Open, which is so
deep in animals' faces. Free from death.
We, only, can see death; the free animal
has its decline in back of it, forever,
and God in front, and when it moves, it moves
already in eternity, like a fountain.
Never, not for a single day, do we have
before us that pure space into which flowers
endlessly open. Always there is World
and never Nowhere without the No: that pure
unseparated element which one breathes
without desire and endlessly knows. A child
may wander there for hours, through the timeless
stillness, may get lost in it and be
shaken back. Or someone dies and is it.
For, nearing death, one doesn't see death; but stares
beyond, perhaps with an animal's vast gaze.
Lovers, if the beloved were not there
blocking the view, are close to it, and marvel...
As if by some mistake, it opens for them
behind each other... But neither can move past
the other, and it changes back to World.
Forever turned toward objects, we see in them
the mere reflection of the realm of freedom,
which we have dimmed. Or when some animal
mutely, serenely, looks us through and through.
That is what fate means: to be opposite,
to be opposite and nothing else, forever.
If the animal moving toward us so securely
in a different direction had our kind of
consciousness, it would wrench us around and drag us
along its path. But it feels its life as boundless,
unfathomable, and without regard
to its own condition: pure, like its outward gaze.
And where we see the future, it sees all time
and itself within all time, forever healed.
Yet in the alert, warm animal there lies
the pain and burden of an enormous sadness.
For it too feels the presence of what often
overwhelms us: a memory, as if
the element we keep pressing toward was once
more intimate, more true, and our communion
infinitely tender. Here all is distance;
there it was breath. After that first home,
the second seems ambiguous and drafty.
Oh bliss of the tiny creature which remains
forever inside the womb that was its shelter;
joy of the gnat which, still within, leaps up
even at its marriage: for everything is womb.
And look at the half-assurance of the bird,
which knows both inner and outer, from its source,
as if it were the soul of an Etruscan,
flown out of a dead man received inside a space,
but with his reclining image as the lid.
And how bewildered is any womb-born creature
that has to fly. As if terrified and fleeing
from itself, it zigzags through the air, the way
a crack runs through a teacup. So the bat
quivers across the porcelain of evening.
And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
turned toward the world of objects, never outward.
It fills us. We arrange it. It breaks down.
We rearrange it, then break down ourselves.
Who has twisted us around like this, so that
no matter what we do, we are in the posture
of someone going away? Just as, upon
the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, he turns, stops, lingers -
so we live here, forever taking leave."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Freely download “Duino Elegies”, by Rainer Maria Rilke, here:
"All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned. These are the things you already know:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Be aware of wonder. And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
- Robert Fulghum
“The Pain of Modern Life: Loneliness and Isolation”
by Graham Peebles
“Humanity is a group. As Mohandas Gandhi famously said: "All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family." This is not a sycophantic religious concept, but the fact of our inherent nature; a nature that the current World socio-economic order systematically works against, forcing us to live in unnatural, unhealthy, unfulfilling, and unjust ways. The negative inter-related consequences of living under such a perverse system are many and varied- painful all: disharmony, depression, anxiety, and loneliness are some of the effects of the resulting disconnect- with ourselves, with others, and with the natural environment.
An Epidemic: Loneliness, particularly in developed countries, has been growing year on year. John Cacioppo, author of “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection”relates that in the 1980s "scholars estimated 20% of people in the US felt lonely at any given time, now it's thought to be over 40%". Worldwide, according to Psychology Today, the numbers suffering from loneliness are at epidemic levels, and, with an aging population throughout the west, are expected to continue to rise.
The suffocating condition of loneliness is the consequence of feeling isolated, disconnected, and adrift, not of being alone. It is related to loss- of a loved one, of a childhood, of an undefined relationship with oneself. It is extremely painful, erodes trust, and according to Cacioppa, can cause lonely people to "feel others around them are threats rather than sources of cooperation and compassion."
Like many associated mental health illnesses, loneliness is stigmatized and seen, Cacioppo relates, as "the psychological equivalent of being a loser in life, or a weak person." In a world where being tough, successful and 'driven' are championed, weakness (particularly in men) and other such inadequacies are frowned upon. As a result people deny loneliness, which is a mistake, as this suffocating condition can increase the risk of an early death by a staggering 45%, higher than both obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
Materiality and division: Materialistic values characterise the present, all pervasive socio-economic model; governments of all political persuasions are the docile servants of the system, the partners of the corporations who run it. Together they form the contemporary elite. A contented, united and happy populace is the last thing they want. The ideal social unit for the benefit of the 'Masters of the Universe', as Adam Smith famously called them, is "you and your television set", Noam Chomsky has said; in a world devoid of community spirit, where selfishness is encouraged, "If the kid next door is hungry, it's not your problem. If the retired couple next door invested their assets badly and are now starving, that's not your problem either." Social unity and human compassion are the enemies of the elite and an unjust system, which promotes values of greed and indifference.
Such values divide and separate, creating the conditions in which loneliness is almost inevitable. Selfishness and accumulation are encouraged; individual ambition and the competitive spirit, which "destroys all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation," Albert Einstein said, and "conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection," pervade and largely dominate all areas of life.
If humanity is to progress towards a new and peaceful way of living, such values, which creating the conditions in which loneliness is almost inevitable, need to give way to other more positive ideals. Cooperation instead of competition, for example, will cultivate tolerance and understanding where suspicion and selfishness prevail, allowing communities to come together, strengthening unity - a primary need of our troubled times.
Cry for help: The pain of loneliness, John Cacioppo maintains, is an "aversive signal for survival" in the same way as thirst or hunger is. It "is part of a biological machinery to alert you to the threat and damage to your social body," which, he says, we need to survive. This is an instinctive reaction to being on the social periphery, and therefore in danger, perhaps not physically any more, but certainly psychologically. According to Caccioppo, this sense of threat initiates an instinctive process of self-preservation and defensiveness. The brain goes into a high alert state and releases increased levels of "morning cortisol- a powerful stress hormone," that can lead to clumsy, intolerant reactions, which further strengthen social alienation.
A recent report into loneliness in Britain- particularly amongst elderly people- described the condition as "a modern 'giant". Shame, guilt and a sense of failure often accompany this psychological monster. The lonely ones feel they are somehow inadequate - not attractive, sufficiently interesting or successful enough for this 'dog eat dog' world. And despite the emphasis placed on achievement as the elixir of happiness and fulfillment, Psychology Today makes clear that "talent, financial success, fame, even adoration, offers no protection from the subjective experience [of loneliness]."
So what is the answer? A strong social network, purpose and structure, and supportive relationships are crucial, but do these address the underlying emptiness, which triggers the loneliness?
Relationship with Self: As is well documented, our sense of happiness and general well-being is more readily brought about when we feel connected, but what is it we long to connect with? The universal need to feel connected is rooted in a sense of fragmentation, an underlying sense of loss- experienced as loneliness. If we felt complete, whole within ourselves, this perceived need, one assumes, would not be present.
There is a school of thought that says the emptiness and isolation we experience is the result of not being in relationship with our true Self- that centre of peace, or some would say divine seed at the core of our being. That the ache we are constantly trying to quieten is caused by identifying with everything and anything other than the Self, and by constantly distracting ourselves with pleasure, which has to a large degree replaced happiness.
The great Indian teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said that when we become aware "of loneliness, the pain of it, the extraordinary and fathomless fear of it, you seek an escape." This would seem natural and understandable, but the distractions, which tend to be sensate in nature, do not, he maintained, bring an end to loneliness, rather they "lead you to misery and chaos".
Indeed can the emptiness of loneliness be satiated by anything external to oneself? "If we have experienced and found one escape to be of no value, are not all other escapes therefore of no value?" Krishnamurti logically argued.
Silence and the space to look within are rare jewels in our World, particularly in western societies. The current socio-economic model is a noisy, poisonous system based on negative values. It has polluted the planet and is making us unhappy and ill in a variety of ways. It is a system that ardently promotes material success and the indulgence of personal desires, all of which encourages dependence on methods of 'escape' of one kind or another- drugs prescribed, (legal and illegal), alcohol, sex, entertainments in all shapes and sizes- including organized religion, to fill the chasm of loneliness, and keep the mind in a constant state of agitation and discontent.
But as Krishnamurti rightly states, such transient distractions will never sufficiently drown out our innate need for union with oneself, with the Self; a realization brought about by self-awareness; by negation - ceasing to identify with the fancies of the mind, and as the 19th century Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi taught,by constantly challenging one's thoughts and feelings with the deconstructive enquiry 'who am I'. These Men of Wisdom assure us that, with sustained commitment and effort, a relationship can be established with the Self, which reveals separation and isolation to be an illusion, and establishes a deep, non-dependent sense of unity- with others and the world in which 'we live and breathe and have our being'. Purpose, contact with others and activity are essential to battle loneliness, but if one becomes dependent on these externals and does not, at the same time, seek to overcome the underlying cause, then it seems clear little will have been achieved and the 'modern giant' will rise up again.”
"Introducing Our Doom Index"
by Bill Bonner
"Today, we look at what is going on in Venezuela. For amusement as well as for instruction. As long-term Diary readers know, we are connoisseurs of financial disaster. In Venezuela in 2017, we think we see an especially good vintage. But before we get to that, we introduce our Doom Index.
Not so doomy: The idea is to try to measure the tension in the system…and get a better idea of when the rubber band is going to snap. Our research department, headed by Nick Rokke, looked at 11 indicators that - when aggregated - have coincided with the last two major blow-ups:
1. Bank loan growth
2. Credit downgrades
3. Junk bond prices
4. Stock market valuations
5. Margin debt
6. Investor sentiment (contrary indicator)
7. Manufacturing sentiment
8. Railcar traffic
9. Non-farm payrolls
10. Household debt to disposable income
11. Quarterly building permits
We were surprised by the results. As you can see from the chart below, despite all our gloom and doom in these pages, our index shows we are not yet in the danger zone.
Killing the pigeons: But let’s turn to an economy where doom is already well underway…and getting doomier by the day: Venezuela. Actions have consequences. In public policy, it is impossible to say what the consequences will be. There are too many delusions and too much smoke. Take a policy said to eradicate city rats. Its real purpose is to reward a large political donor who owns a pest control firm. It ends up killing the pigeons.
Often, policies with clear and obvious purposes end up producing outcomes completely at odds with the stated objectives. Prohibition, for example, increased the number of drunks. The War on Drugs fattened drug dealers’ profits. The War on Poverty has made poverty respectable…even attractive…to poor people. The War on Terror has probably made a million otherwise sane and sensible Muslims yearn to blow up something with a US flag on it.
Most often, these outcomes are not exactly surprises. Look more closely and you will often find, hidden behind the promises…a pest control firm! News reports, for example, tell us that US arms dealers are about to get a $110 billion payday. President Trump announced a weapons deal with the Saudis - the biggest in history.
Into the abyss: Although the exact consequences of public policies are obscure, the patterns are familiar. As we’ve already explored, win-lose deals always reduce total human satisfaction. Win-lose deals - unless they are imposed by petty criminals or local bullies - require government insistence. Otherwise, no one would take the losing side. So the more government there is, the more active, ambitious, and overbearing it is, the more win-lose deals subtract from the sum of human happiness.
A month ago, as many as a million of these disappointed people demonstrated against the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. It was the ‘Mother of All Protests,’ they said. What was their beef? Inflation is running at about 700% a year. Last year, GDP plunged 19%. Food staples - beans, rice, and bread - are disappearing. Families cross the border into Colombia to buy toilet paper. Hospitals have no medicine, no equipment, not even rubber gloves and disinfectants. Sometimes, they have no electricity. Deaths of premature babies have increased 10,000% in the last five years.
How did a country make such a mess of itself? Win-lose In a sense, the country was a victim of its own good luck, and then a victim of its own bad judgment. The good luck happened in 1914 when the first oilfield was drilled. The money followed. By the 1950s, with a basically market-oriented government, Venezuela rose to become the world’s fourth-richest country in terms of GDP per capita. Today, the country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world - 297 billion barrels of the stuff compared to 267 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia.
But good luck allows you to make bad judgments. With the oil wealth flowing, Hugo Chávez - who described himself as a Trotskyist two days before his inauguration as president in 2007 - could impose win-lose deals on the whole economy. Key industries were nationalized. Price controls were put in place. Wealth was redistributed. Win-lose deals can redistribute wealth, but only to the extent win-win deals create it. Take away the win-win deals, and the wealth soon runs out, as it did in Cuba and the Soviet Union. Now the tank is about empty in Venezuela, too.
Banana republic: It doesn’t matter what you call it - government is always a means for the few to exploit the many. The few use every resource available to them to keep the hustle going, with special attention given to manipulating the gullible mob. The typical citizen rarely has any idea of what is going on, and doesn’t have much curiosity about it. As long as he has credit for a new pickup and a champion who promises to smite his enemies, the common man will go along with almost anything.
But the Venezuelan auto industry has been ruined. And there’s no money available. So there are few new pickups on the streets, and much of the public has turned against the government. Not surprisingly, the policies that destroyed Venezuela delighted US economists and politicians - who were eager to impose win-lose deals of their own.
In 2007, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz praised the ‘positive policies’ in health and education of the Chávez government. And in 2011, Bernie Sanders wrote: ‘These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?’
Sanders had no idea what was really going on in Venezuela. But he was right about what was going on in the US. It was on its way to becoming a banana republic. Only without the bananas. Or the republic.”
“You Never Have Time, Only Intentions”
by David Cain
“In my new house the top floor is a single room with gabled walls and a single window that looks out over the street. I go up there twice daily to meditate for half an hour, so every time I’m in that room I can’t help but think, at least once, about how much time I have left in the day.
During those sessions I’m more aware of my thoughts, and the effect they have on me, than at any other time. And I’ve noticed that the amount of time I have left after my sitting—before I have to be somewhere, or before bedtime—makes a big difference psychologically. Given what I plan to do for the rest of the day, I always have one of two distinct feelings: I have enough time, or I don’t have enough time.
I’m learning not to trust either of these feelings, because they’re based on an error in perception—when you think about it, and we never really have time. Time we talk about “having” is always in the future, where we can’t see it and don’t know what it will be like. We can’t be confident it will be there when we need it, or that it will arrive without conditions or unexpected problems.
We never possess time in the same way we possess the money in our wallets, although we talk like we do. We assume we have three hours or three days to do something, but it never actually comes into our possession. The time we “have” is never where we are, and we can never see it, unlike everything else we have: our clothing, our furniture, our homes, our friends and family. We never know our time like we know those things, so we can’t depend on it like we depend on those things.
The un-ownability of time is a little more obvious when it comes to life expectancy. I have to occasionally remind myself I don’t have another 40 or 50 years to live. I often expect it, but I never have it. It’s not mine. I don’t even “have” one year. I do have this moment, but all the time stretching forward from it is just speculation. We can have intentions, but never time. This all might sound like the shower-thoughts of a very bored person. What difference does it really make? “Having time” is just a way of speaking, isn’t it?
It’s not just semantics—there’s a tremendous difference between believing you own and control the upcoming three hours, and understanding that you have intentions for it but don’t own it. Despite your expectations, something could interrupt you, or distract you, or the thing you thought you’d get done is bigger and more complex than you thought, all of which can instantly transmute the comforting feeling of “enough time” to the claustrophobic feeling of “not enough time”. Your time was never dependable, even if you didn’t realize it. Even if there turn out to be no complications, you can never know there won’t be until the time in question is gone.
Time we think we have is always going to be unreliable in this way, and since we’re constantly depending on this unreliable thing, it’s constantly generating a certain kind of stress, regardless of how any given stretch of time turns out. Even if you leave early for an appointment, giving yourself an apparent abundance of time, you never quite know if you’ll have enough to avoid the embarrassment of slinking in late. Anything could happen, and that’s never not true. You can never count on time if you see it as a uniform resource.
But you can know with confidence whether you have enough money to buy a hammer when you get to the hardware store. You do know if you have enough floor to support your breakfast table. You do know if you have enough sweater to keep you warm. We don’t worry about the reliability of these resources the way we constantly worry about time.
The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that our suffering comes from insisting on more control over our experience than is actually available to us. When it comes to time, we do this incessantly, by believing we can bank an upcoming afternoon for this or that errand, the way we can earmark an overtime check for a new microwave.
It’s always going to be stressful to depend on unseen, untested stretches of time with the same sort of confidence we have in suspension bridges to keep our cars out of the river. In the back of our minds we know time is never concrete and never sympathetic; it will almost always surprise us in some way. Nothing unfolds quite like we thought. No stretch of time fits quite the activities we thought it would fit.
Time shrinks and disappears, or arrives with new problems we hadn’t accounted for. It has done this to us our whole lives, and we never learn. Time we “have” is completely unknowable, and depending on it is like delegating vital work to an employee you haven’t interviewed, or even met, and who doesn’t need the paycheck. You may have noticed almost nobody has enough time. Somehow, even after decades of life experience, we cannot seem to corral all of our responsibilities within the amount of time we have. It should be simple math, but it never works out.
We can’t depend on time, but we can depend on intentions. We can create, own and protect intentions. Intentions aren’t bound by time, or anything else outside our control. You can own an intention to write a novel whether or not time co-operates. You can work on it with the same purpose and confidence regardless of how time unfolds.
When intentions are your focus, time returns to its true status as an unpredictable condition—a weather system, rather than a stockpileable commodity. This allows you to make the best possible use of it without stressing over the quantity or quality available on a given day.
Unlike time, you can deal in intentions without demanding more from them than they can deliver. You can keep an intention, or get rid of it, and that’s entirely up to you. Circumstances and surprises won’t take it away from you. It’s always yours.
Of course there’s a difference between whether or not you finish your novel, but if you have the intention and it doesn’t get done, it was impossible. Whether deadlines are met or missed becomes a matter of managing human relationships, which is what deadlines really are anyway. Finally you can quit playing the losing game of trying to manage a resource that isn’t really a resource and which nobody really controls.
With intention at the helm, you don’t need time to be sympathetic to your hopes. If you intend to do it, it gets done if it can be done. And what else matters really? Exactly how and when you finish what you finish isn’t that important, or at least it isn’t important enough to fixate on at the expense of your intentions.
The magic of intentions is that they make your usage of time efficient and realistic. They don’t require more of you, or of time, than what’s available, and so they doesn’t generate stress. The system for managing intentions is simple: know what intentions you have, keep your good ones and throw out your bad ones.
Whenever I remember to stop trying to have time, and instead focus on having worthwhile intentions, time seems more abundant. It seems to show up as needed when I’ve got a good intention going. This makes sense, because the feeling of not having enough time doesn’t come from not having enough time. It can’t, because you always have zero time. It comes from the pain of valuing wishes and hopes over intentions, and what happens to you over who you are.”
Monday, May 22, 2017
X22 Report, “The Central Bankers Make Their Move To Control All Currencies”
"The constellation of Orion is much more than three stars in a row. It is a direction in space that is rich with impressive nebulas. To better appreciate this well-known swath of sky, an extremely long exposure was taken over many clear nights in 2013 and 2014. After 212 hours of camera time and an additional year of processing, the featured 1400-exposure collage spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon emerged.
Click image for larger size.
Of the many interesting details that have become visible, one that particularly draws the eye is Barnard's Loop, the bright red circular filament arcing down from the middle. The Rosette Nebula is not the giant red nebula near the top of the image- that is a larger but lesser known nebula known as Lambda Orionis. The Rosette Nebula is visible, though: it is the red and white nebula on the upper left. The bright orange star just above the frame center is Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star on the lower right is Rigel. Other famous nebulas visible include the Witch Head Nebula, the Flame Nebula, the Fox Fur Nebula, and, if you know just where to look, the comparatively small Horsehead Nebula. About those famous three stars that cross the belt of Orion the Hunter- in this busy frame they can be hard to locate, but a discerning eye will find them just below and to the right of the image."
"I had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision of the universe that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not - that none of us - are alone! I wish I could share that. I wish, that everyone, if only for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and hope. But... that continues to be my wish."
- "Ellie Arroway", "Contact" by Carl Sagan.
“Red Fish, Blue Fish...”
by Chet Raymo
“In his autobiography, the brilliant physicist John Archibald Wheeler makes this confession of faith: "Whatever can be, is." He goes further: "Whatever can be, must be." Anything not prohibited by the laws of nature, exists, he says. Well, that's an extravagent claim, but it passed my mind once when my colleague Maura T. invited me up to the Science Building to see a strange creature she had just added to the aquarium.
Here's a pic, Chaetopterus, the parchment tube worm. In nature, it makes its own U-shaped "parchment" tube, which, except for the open ends, is buried in mud on the seafloor. And there it lives, sifting nourishment from the water it pumps through the tube. What a goofy critter! It looks like something snapped together from a K'Nex kit.
Some years ago, in a Globe column, I mentioned Dr. Seuss's Grickily Gractus, a bird "that lays eggs on a cactus," as an example of a wildly improbable creature. A reader then sent me a photograph of a bird on the island of Bonaire perched - where else? - in a nest on a cactus. Apparently not even Dr. Seuss can think up a creature too odd to exist.
A biologist friend who had returned from a field trip to the upper Rio Negro in Brazil told me about a school of Curimata fish, in their tens of thousands, that passed under his boat, filling the water and air with a "metallic buzz saw sound" (caused, my friend discovered, by the stridulation of the fish's air-filled swim bladder by a bone). Singing fish! Not even Seuss could think of that.
Cactus-laying birds and singing fish are fine lessons in the diversity of life on Earth. Every niche in every habitat is filled. And for every creature alive today, a thousand others, even more improbable because they are less familiar, have lived before and become extinct. All life on Earth is related by common descent, and there has not been enough time to exhaust the possibilities. Nor are terrestrial habitats infinite in number. Still, the astonishing diversity of life bears witness to the truth of Wheeler's conjecture, at least in broad outline.
The chemistry of carbon-based life presumably applies throughout the universe, and the universe presents us with the prospect of hundreds of billions of galaxies, chockablock with stars and planets. The number of worlds, and therefore habitats, is unimaginably large, perhaps infinite. Who is willing to bet against any possibility in all that vastness?"
by Jim Taylor, Ph.D.
“It’s a wonder that good decisions are ever made by the species known as Homo Sapiens. The reality is that the cards are stacked against us whenever we are faced with choices, especially when the decisions are of consequence. Think about all of the horrendously bad decisions that have been made in recent history and how obviously bad they look in our rear-view mirrors. The endless wars, securitizing mortgages, Congress, another season of The Kardashians, the list goes on. And bad decisions don’t just occur at the highest levels of government or business; rather, everyday folks can make appalling decisions as well, whether getting married to that particular person (50% of marriages end in divorce), wearing those low-cut jeans, buying a Hummer, or going into debt to remodel the kitchen.
The fact is that humans are behind the eight ball from the get-go when it comes to making decisions. Children are wholly ill equipped to for decision making. They lack knowledge, experience, and perspective. Children are myopic, impulsive, and easily persuaded. It doesn’t get much better during adolescence when teenagers are driven by raging hormones, underdeveloped self-identities, and peer and cultural pressure.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is neurological where the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with executive functioning, doesn’t fully develop until the early twenties. Executive functioning directly influence decision making because it regulates, controls, and manages our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It influences our reactions to new, ambiguous, and difficult situations. It helps us to weigh risks and rewards and short- and long-term consequences. Executive functioning assists us in planning, organizing, and executing decisions and, importantly, it can prevent us from making rash and potentially harmful decisions.
It doesn’t get any easier as adults to make good decisions either. A wide range of research has demonstrated that we are often at the mercy of psychological, emotional, social, and situational influences when we make decisions. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner in economics, has demonstrated the powerful effect that cognitive biases have on our decision making. Cognitive biases involve the tendency to draw conclusions and make decisions based on limited information or self-interest. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that these biases can lead to irrational decisions at very level of society.
Our decision making is also influenced by our emotional states and social world in ways both overt and subtle, making us appear quite fickle in what we decide. For example, feeling stressed or rushed alters our decisions. The decisions we make are affected by our mood. We make different decisions based on whether we are feeling happy, contemplative, or disgust. As considerable research on peer pressure and groupthink has demonstrated, our decisions are also significantly influenced by social forces, whether friends and family, cultural messages, or societal norms.
Another thing I learned recently is that emotionally laden information (i.e., information that is threatening in some way) goes directly to the emotional center of the brain, including the amygdala and related structures. This connection isn’t surprising given the role that our emotions play in our survival; we need to receive and act on threatening information right away or we may die.
Unfortunately, the rapid decision-making associated with triggering the fight-or-flight reaction that served humans well during primitive times is generally ineffective at helping us make good decisions about complex issues in modern times. And emotionally relevant decisions are the ones that are usually the most important and most necessary to get right. What is even more unsettling is that there are no direct neurological pathways to the prefrontal cortex; all emotional information goes through the primitive emotional brain. So, the pre-frontal cortex is at a severe disadvantage in contributing to decision making because the information it receives is “old news,” secondhand, and tainted by emotions.
We can only conclude that we humans are behind the eight ball when it comes to making decisions and we have a long history documenting just that. Yet somehow we do find ways to make good decisions, whether buying a Prius, not investing with Lehman Brothers, or not invading Iran.
With such a strong current pulling us in the direction of bad decisions, what can we do to increase our chances of making good decisions? Here are a few strategies:
• Don’t make knee-jerk decisions: Give yourself time to reflect on your decisions before you commit to them.
• Don’t let your emotions make your decisions: The more distance you can create between your emotions and your decisions, the easier it will be for your pre-frontal cortex to “get in the game.”
• Look at your decisions from many perspectives: The more information you have, the more you will engage your pre-frontal cortex and the more reasoned your decisions will be.
• Talk to other people about your decisions: People who know you well can identify your biases, offer helpful viewpoints, and reality test your decisions.
Of course, there is no way we can completely resist all of the genetic, neurological, psychological, emotional, and social forces that impact our decision making. But these few simple steps can prevent us from making truly appalling decisions like, say, attacking North Korea or watching the latest music video from Lil Wayne.”