Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Look to the Heavens

"The beautiful Trifid Nebula is a colorful study in cosmic contrasts. Also known as M20, it lies about 5,000 light-years away toward the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. A star forming region in the plane of our galaxy, the Trifid illustrates three different types of astronomical nebulae; red emission nebulae dominated by light emitted by hydrogen atoms, blue reflection nebulae produced by dust reflecting starlight, and dark nebulae where dense dust clouds appear in silhouette. The bright red emission region, roughly separated into three parts by obscuring, dark dust lanes, lends the Trifid its popular name. In this gorgeous wide view, the red emission is also juxtaposed with the telltale blue haze of reflection nebulae. Pillars and jets sculpted by newborn stars, left of the emission nebula's center, appear in Hubble Space Telescope close-up images of the region. The Trifid Nebula is about 40 light-years across."

Economist Paul Krugman, "The Big Inflation Scare"

"Suddenly it seems as if everyone is talking about inflation. Stern opinion pieces warn that hyperinflation is just around the corner. And markets may be heeding these warnings: Interest rates on long-term government bonds are up, with fear of future inflation one possible reason for the interest-rate spike. But does the big inflation scare make any sense? Basically, no — with one caveat I’ll get to later. And I suspect that the scare is at least partly about politics rather than economics.

First things first. It’s important to realize that there’s no hint of inflationary pressures in the economy right now. Consumer prices are lower now than they were a year ago, and wage increases have stalled in the face of high unemployment. Deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. So if prices aren’t rising, why the inflation worries? Some claim that the Federal Reserve is printing lots of money, which must be inflationary, while others claim that budget deficits will eventually force the U.S. government to inflate away its debt.

The first story is just wrong. The second could be right, but isn’t.Now, it’s true that the Fed has taken unprecedented actions lately. More specifically, it has been buying lots of debt both from the government and from the private sector, and paying for these purchases by crediting banks with extra reserves. And in ordinary times, this would be highly inflationary: banks, flush with reserves, would increase loans, which would drive up demand, which would push up prices. But these aren’t ordinary times. Banks aren’t lending out their extra reserves. They’re just sitting on them — in effect, they’re sending the money right back to the Fed. So the Fed isn’t really printing money after all. Still, don’t such actions have to be inflationary sooner or later? No. The Bank of Japan, faced with economic difficulties not too different from those we face today, purchased debt on a huge scale between 1997 and 2003. What happened to consumer prices? They fell.

All in all, much of the current inflation discussion calls to mind what happened during the early years of the Great Depression when many influential people were warning about inflation even as prices plunged. As the British economist Ralph Hawtrey wrote, “Fantastic fears of inflation were expressed. That was to cry, Fire, Fire in Noah’s Flood.” And he went on, “It is after depression and unemployment have subsided that inflation becomes dangerous.” Is there a risk that we’ll have inflation after the economy recovers? That’s the claim of those who look at projections that federal debt may rise to more than 100 percent of G.D.P. and say that America will eventually have to inflate away that debt — that is, drive up prices so that the real value of the debt is reduced.

Such things have happened in the past. For example, France ultimately inflated away much of the debt it incurred while fighting World War I. But more modern examples are lacking. Over the past two decades, Belgium, Canada and, of course, Japan have all gone through episodes when debt exceeded 100 percent of G.D.P. And the United States itself emerged from World War II with debt exceeding 120 percent of G.D.P. In none of these cases did governments resort to inflation to resolve their problems.

So is there any reason to think that inflation is coming? Some economists have argued for moderate inflation as a deliberate policy, as a way to encourage lending and reduce private debt burdens. I’m sympathetic to these arguments and made a similar case for Japan in the 1990s. But the case for inflation never made headway with Japanese policy makers then, and there’s no sign it’s getting traction with U.S. policy makers now. All of this raises the question: If inflation isn’t a real risk, why all the claims that it is?

Well, as you may have noticed, economists sometimes disagree. And big disagreements are especially likely in weird times like the present, when many of the normal rules no longer apply. But it’s hard to escape the sense that the current inflation fear-mongering is partly political, coming largely from economists who had no problem with deficits caused by tax cuts but suddenly became fiscal scolds when the government started spending money to rescue the economy. And their goal seems to be to bully the Obama administration into abandoning those rescue efforts. Needless to say, the president should not let himself be bullied. The economy is still in deep trouble and needs continuing help.

Yes, we have a long-run budget problem, and we need to start laying the groundwork for a long-run solution. But when it comes to inflation, the only thing we have to fear is inflation fear itself."

A Moment With Nature, John Muir

The blue hues captured in this photograph of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park,
Alberta, Canada, show just how awesome the natural world can be.
"Let children walk with Nature,
let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life,
their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows,
plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star,
and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life."
- John Muir

Rachel Carlson, "The Sense of Wonder"

"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate."
- Rachel Carlson, "The Sense of Wonder," 1965

The Daily "Near You?"

Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"You Sure Can..." Not.

The Economy: "Too Bad About GM"

"Too bad about GM. It was set up in 1916. If it had been able to hold together for another 7 years, it would have gone 100 years without having to declare bankruptcy. All people die. All companies die, too. That’s why ‘buy and hold’ is wishful thinking. Buy and hold long enough and you are sure to go broke. And die.
Eventually the undertakers and bankruptcy lawyers get you. And today…business is good in Detroit. What cleared the way for the GM bankruptcy was a deal with the bondholders…in which they take equity in exchange for their debt and agree not to contest the bankruptcy filing. Still, the deal – and other deals relating to it…including the presence of one very big and very odd shareholder, the government of the United States of America – is so complicated, it’s bound to give bankruptcy lawyers plenty of work for many years. But business seems to be picking up everywhere…at least, that’s the impression you get from reading the paper. The war against capitalism seems to be going pretty well, in other words.

Yesterday, the rally continued on Wall Street, with the Dow up 103 points. Oil rose too. It is trading at $65 a barrel this morning. And look at gold – the old yellow metal is at $963 and still going up. Does this mean the feds are winning the war?

“Signs of life return to California market,” says the Financial Times. Houses in many areas are selling for 60% less than they did two years ago. Two years ago, the average family couldn’t come close to buying the average house. In didn’t take a genius to figure out that that couldn’t last. Who were they going to sell the average house to if not to the average family? Well, now the $600,000 dump from ’07 has been foreclosed and is now on sale for $200,000. That means that the average family that still has a job can buy it. And it doesn’t hurt that the feds make it easier – distorting the market with an $8,000 tax credit and EZ financing from the FHA.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t it easy financing that got us into this mess? Of course it was. But that little insight doesn’t stop the feds. They’re convinced that if they can just put out enough new credit, it will somehow make the problems caused by having too much credit before go away. So here’s the deal. You can get the FHA to finance a house, long-term, at just 4.9%. That’s just 0.3% higher than the long-term Treasury yield. Even without opening the closet door, we smell a rat. How can lenders expect to make any money – after delinquencies, defaults, foreclosures, resales…to say nothing of legal and administrative work – on a 0.3% margin? And that’s assuming their cost of money is the same as the feds’ cost – the long term T-bond rate.

Maybe they should read the paper. John Authers, writing in the Financial Times: “The latest US mortgage delinquency figures are horrendous, with more than 6% of prime mortgages in arrears – more than double the long-term norm. A quarter of sub-prime loans are delinquent.” And although one in 6 homeowners is underwater… “The peak of foreclosures has yet to come,’ Harvard historian Niall Ferguson adds. ‘They will go from 40 percent of all home sales to literally 100 percent by the end of the year.’”

Well, the bankers – as everyone knows – are a lot smarter than we are. They’re probably up to the old trick: borrowing short, lending long. The spread between the long rate and the short rate has never been great. We explained why yesterday. The Chinese don’t trust Tim Geithner to keep his word. For that matter, neither do we. They’ve switched from buying long bonds to buying short bills. So, the bankers – including those working for the FHA – can borrow very cheaply in the short-term market. And they can make cheap mortgage loans, long-term. And then, when the short rates go up…and they need to roll over their short-term loans…they can get in line at the courthouse, behind GM and the parts manufacturer…and pick out a gaudy casket too.

Jobless claims eased for the second week in a row. Hallelujah. The economy is still unloading jobs, but at least its not dumping them like it was earlier in the year. Which leads a number of economists to the old refrain: ‘the worst is behind us.’ Meanwhile, from Japan comes encouraging news. The Nippon economy is increasing its industrial output at the fastest pace in 56 years. And oil is signaling a global rebound, isn’t it? “I don’t think so,” says MoneyWeek’s editor in Paris. “There is no increase in oil consumption. Instead, consumption is still going down. What we’re seeing is speculation. The central banks are adding to the funds available for speculation. So far, that money isn’t reaching the consumer economy…it’s mostly in the natural resources market betting on inflation.”

Everywhere you look, dear reader, is a war zone. Nothing is safe. The feds’ war against deflation does collateral damage to almost everyone and everything. But you have to give the feds credit. Raw materials…gold…oil…emerging markets – all have seen big increases. Major stock markets too are showing big gains. But the feds’ plan is not to reflate the asset bubble, but to reflate the economy. For that, they need rising consumer prices. Consumers need to borrow…and spend. They’ll do so, say economists, when prices rise and their dollars lose value. So far, milk and potatoes aren’t cooperating. The price of milk fell so low that farmers slaughtered their herds. As for potatoes…we don’t know. In Europe, inflation has disappeared. This is the first time the euro zone has ever had flat and falling prices. In America, too, consumer price inflation is ebbing away. In other words, the feds may be winning a battle but losing the war!

As usual, there’s a lot of smoke and fog on this battlefield. Consumer confidence is rising…but so is unemployment. The New York Times says US joblessness may soon pass Europe’s habitually-high rates. The Chinese are still buying America’s debt – but only the short-term stuff. America’s biggest industrial company goes broke…the government takes a key role in key industries…but investors buy more stocks! If you look through your binoculars you will have a hard time figuring out who’s really winning. In the confusion of the battlefield, even a hardened veteran often fails to tell which way the fight is going. In fact, you might see rising stock prices and get the wrong idea…like watching the Yankees get chased back to Washington after the first battle of Bull Run; you might have thought that that was all there was to it. The war was over and the South had won. Not quite."
- Bill Bonner,

"How It Really Is"

Blaise Pascal

"What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?"
- Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662,
French philosopher, physician and mathematician.

Biology: "Are We Humans Dumber Than Chimps?"

"Could you be dumber than a chimp? That's not as daft a question as it once was. After all, science has proved that chimpanzees share 99 per cent of our DNA. They can learn sign language. They can solve puzzles and even make tools. And this week came the most startling discovery of all.

Researchers in Japan have pitted human adults against five-year-old chimpanzees in a test of mental agility and memory - and the chimps won. In a test of short-term memory involving numbers flashed on a computer screen, the apes comfortably beat their human opponents. This astonishing result, published in the journal Current Biology, shows that in at least some respects our position at the top of the intellectual tree may be a bit shakier than we thought.

So what is going on here? Are chimps really brighter than us, even in this sort of memory test? And if so, what does this mean for the way that we treat them? After all, how could it be right to lock up creatures more intelligent than ourselves in zoos or laboratories? Most uncomfortably of all, can it be right to kill and eat creatures which may be less bright than ourselves but may nevertheless be fully sentient beings? In fact, the more science discovers about the animal mind, the less comfortable, philosophically, the findings become. And this has led to a small but growing movement that says we have to rethink our relationship with the animal world.

The traditional view of animal intelligence was a mixed one. On one hand, animals were thought to be inferior in all aspects to people; many religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, teach that animals are essentially chattels, placed on Earth by God for us to use as we will. On the other hand, people have always ascribed emotions, intelligence and even 'rights' to their fellow beasts. People have always valued the companionship of animals, and many species have been venerated and even worshipped as gods. Until relatively recently, the scientific view has been equally confused.

While evolutionary biologists taught that people and apes shared most of their genetic make-up and were very closely related (humans are, in fact, a part of the Great Ape family, more closely related to chimps and bonobos than chimps are to gorillas), those who studied animal behaviour and intelligence continued to believe that humans had unique mental characteristics that put us far ahead of any other species. (Well, maybe not...)

Fifty years ago, for instance, science would have used several 'truths' to distinguish us from the other animals. First, they said, only humans have language. Equally, we are unique in having the ability to make and use tools. Surely only humans know they exist, as distinct entities? Finally, it was thought, only humans know they will die, and only we can recognise ourselves in a mirror or dream up gods and build churches in which to worship them. Now, though, things are rather different. Tool use? Many, many species are now known to use tools. Chimps can use moistened sticks to 'fish' for termites. Marine otters use rocks to smash open shells. And the ability of some birds is quite astonishing. A Caledonian crow called Betty made the headlines a few years ago when she was found to be able to fashion quite complicated hooked tools from bits of wire to fish things out of tubes. Even chimps cannot do this. Even some humans cannot do this.

Then there's the issue of speech: apes have now been taught elementary sign language, and there is some evidence that parrots who have learned to 'speak' English may actually understand the meaning of some words and phrases and not be merely, well, parroting the sounds that they have heard. Nor are humans the only animals that can recognise themselves in a mirror. Apes, possibly some birds and definitely elephants have now been shown to be able to do this. As to contemplating the future, the meaning of life and the certainty of death, we can never know what is going on in an animal's mind. But given how much we have discovered about animal behaviour in the past couple of decades, it would possibly be foolish to assume that we are unique in our abilities here either.

So what does this mean? Should the fact that we now know that some animals have hitherto-unsuspected mental skills change our attitude to them? The answer may well be that we should. The whole notion of human rights depends on our sentience and intelligence. If we accept that other animals are far more sophisticated, intelligent and sentient creatures than we thought, it would seem to be illogical not to grant them some rights too. The old soundbite that there can be 'no rights without responsibilities' is, of course, meaningless; we are happy to grant human rights to babies, the senile and the simple without demanding any responsibilities from them, so why not a chimp who would easily be the superior of any of these in terms of sheer cognitive ability?

These are uncomfortable issues. But scientists are now starting to address them seriously. For example, there is a growing movement, the Great Ape Project, which recognises that some species, starting with the great apes, should have a special legal status. It is already the case that many primates have protection under the law denied other species. It is, then, easy to envision a future where these rights are extended to other animals as well. The Australian philosopher Peter Singer has generated some outrage by proposing that full 'human' rights should be granted to any sentient creature. This would mean, he says, that in certain circumstances it would be morally correct to sacrifice a human to save the life of, say, a chimpanzee. This is an extreme view, but the very fact that 'serious' scientists are now debating such moral dilemmas shows that man's relationship with the animal kingdom is in need of reappraisal. There is, of course, a danger in reading too much into the latest research about chimpanzees' mental skills.

In reality, there is still no way we can consider ourselves to be less intelligent than the chimpanzee; this was simply one test, and it is not clear how much this sort of short-term 'photographic' memory equates with what we call 'intelligence' anyway. Apes are not people: they cannot build cathedrals, travel into space or find cures for diseases - but then again, nor can most humans. What the Japanese research does prove is that once again, a new and hitherto unsuspected ability has been unearthed in animals. And as science uncovers more and more about the animal mind, it seems as though the voices of those clamouring for a change in the way we treat these creatures will become louder and more plausible."

I think we need more research...

"The Deeper Reasons for the Economic Crisis"

"For all the horror the global economic crisis has caused for so many people, one progressive consequence has emerged: many of these people are becoming politically conscious — searching for information to better understand their political and economic system. They want to know how things got the way they did and what can be done about it. Unfortunately, much of the resulting analysis has focused too little on actual causes, and too much on abstract financial details and other consequences of deeper economic problems.

Therefore, the typical explanation of the economic crisis goes as follows: depression-era financial regulations were tossed aside, and banks were allowed to merge into new institutions that then invented ways to transform debts into assets, which were gambled away on the stock exchange to the tunes of trillions of dollars.

All of which is true. What’s missing, however, is why. Why did successive governments allow the regulations to be destroyed? And more importantly, why did the entire political establishment agree that these regulations needed to go? One important statistic can help provide some insight: Whereas manufacturing was twice as large as the financial sector of the U.S. GDP in 1970, these numbers have since been reversed — the financial sector is now 21 percent of U.S. GDP, while manufacturing is just 12 percent, and shrinking. Why did the financial sector grow as manufacturing sank? And how are the two related?

Investors (capitalists) have become increasingly frustrated with actually producing things; the profits just aren’t what they used to be. This is because manufacturers — under capitalism — must compete with others on the world market in selling their goods; and the only way to win this competition is to have the lowest prices, requiring that you also own the most up-to-date and expensive machinery. The huge investment it takes in machinery to win this contest has an adverse affect on profits — the bigger the re-investment in machinery, the lesser the take home cash for the owners. This drives the more astute investors into the financial realm, where one is magically able to shift money around and make huge profits…seemingly out of nowhere. But this type of money wizardry has its limits. Money, properly understood, is simply a means to exchange goods and services, having no independent existence outside of this purpose.

But that is just what happened during our now-fizzled boom — money took on a life of its own. New financial “instruments” (money) were created out of thin air, with no apparent connection to reality. But there was in fact a connection: mortgages, car and student loans, and other types of debt were “packaged” together in complex ways, shipped around the world and sold as assets. No one really knew what they were buying but they were told it was a sure deal. This giant, confused bubble of debt has yet to be fully deflated. And that’s just what a financial bubble is: money separated from real products.

This phenomenon of taking debt and separating it from its source has a long, profitable history, as old as capitalism in fact. Marx said this about it: “Such a crises [monetary] occurs only where the ever-lengthening chain of payments, and an artificial system of settling them, has been fully developed.” (Capital, Volume III)

Sound familiar? Marx intimately understood the important role that credit plays under capitalism, and how an excess of it occurs automatically, eventually leading to crisis. This is because the capitalist market has definite limits, which capitalists constantly seek to overstep. The biggest limit is that of wages, which can only buy so many goods. But more goods are always produced than can be purchased (also called overproduction), especially when wages are constantly being driven down to boost profits.

Credit is the temporary cure-all that seems to bridge this gap — the larger the gap grows between wages and products produced, the more debt is needed to stave off a recession, or overproduction. This is why interest rates were kept unnaturally low in the boom days, producing a tidal wave of debt. Not only were average people encouraged to take on large amounts of debt by corporations and governments alike, they needed the extra money to compensate for their stagnant or falling wages. The delusion that such an obvious pyramid scheme could go on forever was shared by virtually every member of the U.S. two-party system. It is hard to fathom a bigger indictment of stupidity and greed. If anything good is to come out of this crisis, lessons must be learned. Otherwise, we’ll go on repeating the same boom and bust cycle that has dominated the capitalist economy since the days of Marx.

This means accepting that we cannot simply regulate our way out of this crisis. Credit and debt did not cause the recession; they were merely symptoms of its coming. The disease lies in overproduction, which occurs naturally in an economic system that produces goods only for a market. Now that the credit bubble has been broken, the class of corporate owners are seeking to off-load their overproduced products in another way. One classic method of doing this is war, where a defeated country’s market is exploited by the victor’s corporations inside its borders.

War and economic crisis are closely related phenomenon, both of which require an anti-capitalist perspective to combat. A system where goods and services are produced for social need, under the democratic control of the people, is not utopian, but an absolute necessity if the world is to progress past this increasingly turbulent period."
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ,
( He can be reached at

Terence McKenna

"The bigger you build the bonfire,
the more darkness is revealed."

- Terence McKenna

The Economy: "The Zimbabwe Solution- Monetize the Debt"

"What's the nuclear option? It's the Zimbabwe Solution... pioneered by Gideon Gono, head of Zimbabwe's central bank... and recently proposed for the US by Harvard professors Rogoff and Mankiw. And they're not the only ones. Of course, there is no need to exaggerate. The facts are outrageous enough. So, let's calmly look at what has happened so far... and where it is likely to lead.

As you know, the battle between inflation and deflation is going badly for the feds. Deflation is winning. And yesterday, the Eastern Front collapsed. Germany announced that consumer prices are now 0.1% lower than they were a year ago. Germany is in outright deflation. The rest of Europe is probably not far behind.

In America, the trend is probably in the same direction. The money supply - M1 - grew at an 18% rate over the last 6 months. But taking just the last 3 months, the rate of growth has fallen to only 1.8%. Meanwhile, the US Treasury is borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars in order to close the gap between what the US spends and what it receives in taxes. Even if the Chinese are willing to fund that borrowing in the very short term, it just pushes forward the inevitable day when the list of willing lenders is shorter than the list of US Treasury bonds to be sold.

When that happens, the Chinese can bend over and kiss their reserves goodbye. Because there is no way the US government is going to forego spending money just to protect foreign bondholders. Instead, to raise money, it is going to turn to its very own bond buyer of last resort - the Fed. The Fed will "monetize the debt" - by buying Treasury debt and converting it to dollars in circulation. At least, that's the plan. The risk is that it will cause consumer price inflation. Everyone is aware of the risk. Few doubt that it would happen.

Needless to say, we can't wait to see what happens. The Chinese already seem to think that holding dollars is less attractive than it used to be. But Geithner and Bernanke assured Wen Jiabao that his money was safe. We wonder what he'll do when he realizes they played him for a fool."

Mark Twain

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain

"Laughter May Be the Best Medicine"

"Laughter is not only an effective stress-reliever, but can be heart-healthy, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's 56th Annual Meeting in Seattle. Two separate studies examined the role of a good laugh as it relates to health.
One of the studies took an inverted approach to previous research on the harmful cardiovascular tolls of stress and negative mood. A small group of healthy adults were instructed to watch either a comedy or documentary film, and were monitored for carotid artery activity during the films. Subjects who watched the comedy benefited from improved "arterial compliance," the amount of blood that moves through the arteries at a given time. Conversely, decreased arterial compliance is often associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. "Arterial compliance was improved for a full 24 hours after subjects watched a funny movie," said lead researcher Jun Sugawara. "Laughing is likely not the complete solution to a healthy heart, but it appears to contribute to positive effects."

A second study found similar results in vascular function. When another group watched either a comedy or a somber documentary, blood vessels became more dilated during the comedy. Constricted blood vessels often lead to high blood pressure. Like the first study, favorable effects on vascular function were sustained for 24 hours. "Not only did comedies improve vascular dilation, but watching a documentary about a depressing subject was actually harmful to the blood vessels," said Takashi Tarumi, lead researcher on the study. "These documentaries constricted blood vessels by about 18 percent."

In addition to laughter, a significant body of evidence exists that shows exercise as a preventive mechanism against both cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. ACSM's Exercise is Medicine program promotes these curative and protective benefits, and encourages all patients to talk with their doctor or health care provider about their physical activity programs."

"Playing the Game Called 'America'"

"Playing the game called "America" is a long standing, popular phenomenon. Most everyone chooses to play. You can play "America" or you can play other games, or you can choose not to play any games in particular. Playing the game is optional and you are free to leave the game at any time; though relatively few do leave the game once they begin playing, regardless of lack of personal reward and in spite of great personal losses, up to and including their own lives. For those who play "America", nothing else matters. To them, non-players and their lives are deemed not important at all. In fact they are often perceived as a threat to the game. Nothing will stop the game. The game is everything.
A game by definition is a competition, so all players are competitors; and what is a competitor but an opponent? In this game everyone is your enemy, and you must live your life perceiving all others as either friend or foe. Those who are not friends are foes by default, according to game code.

The game I'm referring to is not much different than any role playing game you can play online. You must choose your identity and construct your physical appearance from available provided components, leaving you little flexibility toward making yourself unique. This is generally not a problem as most players don't desire to be unique. Quite the opposite. They are strongly motivated by the desire to be exactly the same as the others in their own sector of the game board; and a great many players desire to be exactly the same as currently popular generic/iconic public figures advertised by the game itself.

You can never be truly unique in the game because whatever components you choose to construct yourself with, will also be chosen by millions of others. The individual selection and reconfiguration of provided components lends the impression of uniqueness, but by design the game cannot accommodate true uniqueness. Being unique in the game is prohibited because it imposes unwanted challenges to the code and could overwrite the code. Overwriting the code is strictly forbidden and will not be tolerated. Attempts to overwrite the code will result in expulsion from the game.

You have chosen to enter the game to play the game, and that is what you will spend your every waking moment doing for the rest of your life. The only way you can truly excel within the game is by playing the game better than others in some way or another. Endless winning through endless competition is what lies at the foundation of your new value system, the value system provided by the game code. Because prizes are limited and quite hard to get, you understand that unless you become very skilled at playing the game you will never win more than what you need to simply stay in the game and keep playing it. For some that is enough, but for many it's not nearly enough. For all, the chance to win great prizes is what makes it all so exciting and desirable. It's the primary reason all gamers get up in the morning. Every day is another chance to win.

Like any game there are flaws in the program but you were told long ago to believe that if you see a flaw it is either not there and you were mistaken, or there is a perfectly good reason for it that fits within the parameters of the game which are beyond your understanding or need to know. There are no other possible reasons. Anyone who suggests otherwise is to be perceived as someone with a serious cognitive impairment or as being purposely dishonest to gain attention, which is a highly coveted prize in the game. You believe that and accept it to be so. The code is always right. And because you accept the code you are always right by extension.

When I, someone who is not interested in the game, run into you, someone who is fully invested in playing the game, there is an immediate interpersonal disconnect. A tangible flash-point explodes between our bodies; and you and I will not be able to communicate meaningfully. What I say lies beyond the parameters of your game code, and what you say is of little value or use to me in the non-gaming world. There is no way to apply 'give and take' to the situation. I have nothing you're willing to take, and what you have to give is the last thing I'm interested in. I am standing here being me, being real, but you are playing a game. The problem is that you don't realize you're playing a game. The game you accepted so long ago has become, for you, an absolute truth.

Once you enter the game atmosphere it becomes the only reality there is. You don't forget completely that there is an external reality but you don't care to spend any time in it or pay it any mind. It in fact becomes undesirable out there because there are no rules and the safeguards built into the game don't exist out there. There is pain outside the game. The parameters are not predefined and given to you. People say things that are not written into the game code and this is endlessly frightening to you. It is too hard to think for yourself. It feels unsafe to trust in your own critical thinking ability. You are dependent on the code to guide you at all times. Intrusions from outside the game are unwelcome. You don't like being interrupted or yanked back into the real world to deal with unhappy things outside of the game, you want to remain inside the game and play the game at all times.

The game world is much easier than real life because all rules and parameters are predefined and provided. Once you understand the parameters and operational possibilities, you are free to do whatever you like, achieve as much as you desire, test yourself to your hearts content; but only within the specific predefined parameters and rules of the game. Your existence is minimized and simplified because the entire spectrum of choices and possibilities has been erased from your life palette. All options are removed but one, and that is the one you take. You will deny that is true because the code says it gives you everything and you believe the code.

The payoff for playing the game comes at a basic level. Although additional elevated levels are shown you so that you may aspire to them, for the vast majority of people, the basic payoff is all the reward they'll ever get. By accepting the parameters of the game and following the rules of the game, you receive the basic payoff: limited inclusion in the game. It may be limited, but it's still inclusion and inclusion means acceptance and that acceptance is what you covet. Being accepted by the game means that you officially exist and are cleared and expected to play. Many insecurities and fears vanish overnight forever the moment you decide that you will enter the game and stay there forever.

Playing the game well means you know how to do it right, you know how to play and win big prizes. But just for playing you receive standard player status, though not officially, and small rewards and praise are passed around from within groups of standard class players. They don't mean anything beyond the clutch of standard players passing them around, but they are made out to mean a lot to the clutch.

The advertised rewards for playing the game seem vast but in truth, only the lowest hanging fruit is available for most players to compete over. Usually, there really aren't that many great official physical prizes to be had. There are various levels of subsistence prizes and various kinds of nice emotional rewards, and a great many consolation prizes in pretty packaging. A perceived increase in personal status compared to other competitors is the form of gratification that is most coveted. Those who obtain a perceived increase in personal status rarely reject it. It is hard to get and it lifts the winner up to pluck fruit from much higher, sunnier, more bountiful places on the tree. This is called winning, and that's what playing the game is all about.

The first and primary reward for all players is the total release from responsibility in creating a real world to live in. Playing the game is much easier and the rhetoric about why you should play is exciting and compelling, you never tire of hearing it repeated. It makes you feel like you're a part of something special. You'd have to be nuts to not take this enormous life short cut. To play the game is to be happy, they say, and playing it right means you are doing things right and you will be acknowledged by everyone else in the game for doing it so nice and right all of the time.

The game is supposed to be fun and pretty and perfect all the time, and everyone playing the game is supposed to be happy all the time, and never have serious, sad, or otherwise sobering, horrible problems. The game does not allow for those things, except under the most special circumstances. If you have only ordinary status within the game, any real life situations that intrude will likely get you rudely and automatically rejected from the game. You will only be allowed to watch, from a distance, but you will not be allowed to play anymore, unless you somehow manage to recover completely and can return triumphant, but that is often not the case.

As you walk down the streets of the game, you sometimes notice others on the peripheral edges who have been ejected or barred access from the game. You pay them little mind because they are not important in your game playing. Involvement with them at all would cost you points, lost time, and perhaps even lay a horrible burden on you that would slow you down and cause you to lose status and momentum on the game board. You tend to see the homeless person, the minority, the screwed, as having no one but themselves to blame because they refuse to play the game like everyone else does. You dismiss them with some disgust and sometimes you don't hide how you feel from their earshot and view.

To you, there is something wrong with them, they want rewards from the game without playing the game and you perceive that as repulsive. It would make you very jealous to have to share a single one of your hard earned points with them, or see anyone else but yourself benefit from your hard earned personal game status and playing skills. You'd rather see them die or at least beaten and dragged away to prison cells where such deviant types should end up.

They frighten you like nothing else in the game because they represent an unthinkable threat to you: the taking away of rewards that have come to you as a result of your acceptance of and adherence to the game code. It goes against everything you believe that others should be able to take away your winnings from you. Accumulating your personal winnings is the basic essence and meaning of your life. They are lucky the game feeds them at all, they certainly don't deserve the kindness. The kindness is not even appreciated. Yes, you have a very hard time even granting the right to exist to anyone who doesn't play the game you play. And in your heart of hearts you think that's the right way to see things. It would never occur to you that most of those scattered along the edges of the theme park are suffering there because the rules of the game specifically prohibit their participation. It's not their fault at all. But the rules lie and say all are welcome, so that's what you believe. You believe in the code.

All of your in-game thoughts and opinions are reinforced by many others in the game with you who will also see and think and believe as you do. That singleness of mind is in no small way a reward for being a player. A large part of the enjoyment of the game is the disconnected solidarity of the players, the shared experience of knowing the rules, accepting the boundaries and parameters, and trusting the code. Even those from many disparate parts of the game board will all enjoy hearing and repeating the game slogans and listening to the game theme songs. Everyone can feel welcome to play the game and believe that the benefits of playing are there to be had by one and all. All you have to do is suspend your soul and you too can play the game and have the best time of your entire life for the length of your whole life. As the saying goes, you can't win if you don't play. And you are not just a player, you are a winner, and you deserve to win.

You believe with all your heart that playing the game with all you've got is "the answer". You would never doubt that for a minute. The endless stream of errors and glitches in the code are all a part of the game, they mean nothing, and you believe they are always and only anomalies, no matter how often or dependably they repeat. In the game, doubting the code is the one rule that must never be broken. You refuse to doubt the code. You've been reassured countless times that the code is infallible and superior and that no better gaming experience exists anywhere. This is the best game in town and you love this game. You don't mind or notice that the rules are bent for the power players, and when anyone mentions it you tell them they are liars and to shut up. No one questions the code. The code is all. The code is perfection. Doubting the code is to be stupid and evil. Belief in the code is what makes the code the perfect, gleaming thing of beauty that it is.

Well, I question the code. I don't trust the code. I don't have much respect for the game. I don't like its obvious contradictions, cheats, hacks and fixed outcomes. I don't like the dark and gargantuan mechanical underground workings churning away while no one above knows they exist because the game denies they exist. I don't like that people are led to believe the game is real, not a choice, not a diversion, not a selective escape from reality. These are the things I can see from outside of the theme park. I know the bad results of the game which the game routinely buries and denies.

As I have no interest in the game per se, I care about what I care about, and what I care about is the reality I see around me and that I live in. To the game I am a vicious enemy, a doubter, a questioner, someone who does not believe the code is superior by virtue of its mere existence. I know the code is written by ordinary mortals like myself, who are without exception flawed and weak and error prone and not above writing the code to suit themselves. In fact by not playing the game and instead walking around the theme park, especially in the restricted access areas, I have come to understand what the game is and why it is being played and why it is so important to the theme park owners to keep people excited about the game, believing in the game and playing the game with all they've got, including all their money, their bodies, and every aspect of their lives.

What I see offends me. The game is rigged. I see mass blindness, ignorance, selfishness, cruelty, and things that fly in the face of reason. Things that deny the existence of reality. Which to me, of course, makes no sense at all. It does become surreal to have to argue the case that reality is real and that it exists, when I am surrounded by so many others who angrily and condescendingly tell me that there is no such thing as reality beyond the confines of the game board, and there never could be.

Well I know better. And I feel a good bit of trepidation about a future wherein reality is erased completely from the conscious workings of the game board, and is kept hidden from all of the players by the owners, operators and copartners who all benefit handsomely from propagating the myth that reality does not exist and that whatever seems to be reality beyond the board is a lie.

What I know that few players know, that few of the players can believe or accept or even listen to is the simple reality that this game is rigged. Completely and totally. It is not natural. It is not real. It is not necessary. It is flawed, fixed and evil. And while it is true that there are parts of the theme park that are allowed to be beautiful it is only a matter of time before those small patches of reality are excised and removed from the park or marked off limits and made into something to fear or not believe in.

Because I know better I can never give up trying to show you what I see. I am not making anything up. There is an entire universe beyond the game board boundaries, whether you choose to realize it or not. Your belief does not make the reality of the universe. The universe makes its own reality which you can either choose to participate in or do something else. If you were not at such dangerous, critical points in the game I wouldn't much care what reality you chose to believe in. But your reality as well as mine is being threatened because of your game and your undying belief in the code.

The code is wrong. The code can lie like nothing I've ever experienced in my life, it takes my breath away and never ceases to outdo itself. I am in awe of the inhuman, wicked, convoluted, hypocritical deceitfulness of the code and the extreme viscosity it uses to perpetrate the illusions it sows. Those illusions are not sown for your benefit, they are sown to benefit others at your expense. They are sown to prevent you from ever having a chance at gaining true benefit from living a real life in a real world in a way that really matters and makes a difference. Those who own the game want nothing different. And they are the most frightening people on the face of this earth.

You can consider my words or choose to dismiss them without a thought. The choice is yours. But do ask yourself this. If I am not playing the game then what rewards could I possibly be seeking? The answer is none. What other motivation might I have to say these things that question the code and try to expose its hypocrisy and evil nature? To make trouble and seek attention from the game? I seek no attention from the game. Do you enjoy trouble? Well neither do I. I do not seek trouble. That leaves few other motivations than the one I have, which is this: it matters to me that everyone knows they are in a rigged game that predates them and will eat their young and destroy this world forever if it is not exposed and stopped.

It's really that simple. Why should I care? Why shouldn't I care? It is only within your game code that all others are enemies. It is not a universal truth. If that surprises you then rest assured, there are many more surprises in store. There is a better way to live than in the game and according to game code. The game is not "the" way. It is not the end all and be all of existence. From where I stand it seems silly to have to state such an obvious fact, but I know it is not obvious to you if the game is all you've ever known.

If you ever decide to investigate the realm beyond the game board, there's a very good chance that you will see that you could actually do much better out of the game than in it. The 'better' will be in different ways, in many different forms. "Winning" is not all. Unless you consider the possibility that there is more in the universe than playing in your game you will never have the opportunity to find out if what I'm saying is true. If it is true and you never bothered to at least take a look, how will you rest in your eternal sleep? What life will you have lived when you did not bother to check for another path which was there and would have served you, in your one and only life, so much better? I know it mattered to me to check. I know I'm very glad I did.

If nothing I've said has convinced you to look beyond the game for your own sake, then I will leave you with two truths to consider. Everything there is in the whole of existence lies beyond the borders of your game code, not within it; and nothing, absolutely nothing is ONLY what it appears to be."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be,
and you help them to become what they are capable of being."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

General Douglas MacArthur, "Stay Young"

"Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind. It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair, these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

Whether seventy or seventeen there is in every beings heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement of the stars and the starlight things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events and the childlike appetite for what’s next, and the joy and the game of life.

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear. So long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from man, and from the infinite, so long you are young."
- General Douglas MacArthur

"The Deadliness of Certainty"

"Freud recognized that human beings have a sex drive and even a death drive. Is it possible that we also have an aphorism drive? We do seem attracted to pat answers and pithy summation - especially from our politicians. It isn't enough to be wise or effective; one must be quotable.

In fact, aphorism is the oldest written art form, according to aphorism expert and author James Geary ("The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism"). Before famed aphorists Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker and Woody Allen put the party in repartee, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad were creating buzz. Five thousand years ago, the Egyptians and Chinese were chiseling out sturdy statements of universal truth.

Les bons mots tend to make us feel better, lending form to our thoughts and order to our emotions. They're especially useful in times of duress. Eulogies and editorials invariably feature those three little words: "As [fill in the blank] said." Here comes one now: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Ahhhh. Feeling better already. Thus was born the Hallelujah Chorus. Then again, more often these days, a politician's happy turn of phrase makes me feel worse. I don't know whether to clap my hands or clutch my wallet. Why does the very thing intended to make one feel uplifted and inspired make me feel manipulated and skeptical?

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, writing recently in the New York Times, inadvertently may have offered a clue. He was explaining that people are happiest when they are certain. We don't like not knowing, apparently, even when what we know is awful. Gilbert cited various experiments to make his point, including one involving the certifiably awful colostomy. People who knew their colostomies would be permanent were happier than people whose colostomies might someday be reversed. Gilbert's conclusion: People would rather know than not know. Knowing, they can make psychological adjustments. "We find our bootstraps and tug," he wrote. "But we can't come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don't yet know."

Gilbert's observations were in the context of our current economic woes. As soon as we know how bad things are (or aren't), he said, we'll adapt and get along just fine. He may be right as far as it goes, but the same uncertainty that makes human beings unhappy also stimulates the creativity that makes us happy. Was Leonardo da Vinci happy? Homer? George Washington? Man's drive to create isn't born of contentment but of anxiety attached to the unconscious agitation that comes from the greatest certainty ever devised: Death. Here is a truism, if not an aphorism. Without death and the certainty of physical finitude, Homo sapiens would never have left the cave. Unhappiness and uncertainty - rather than happiness and certitude - are what get us off our duffs.
No misery. No Sistine Chapel.

So what happens to the creative spirit when government steps in to soothe our anxieties? Without unhappiness, what happens to culture? Without adversity, what happens to motivation? Parents know. Suffice to say, the work ethic is not strong among the coddled. Most important, with all needs met, what happens to freedom - that human recoil against imposed order?

When Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," he wasn't the first or the last to express the sentiment. George W. Bush was accused of taking advantage of Americans' post-Sept. 11 terror to expand executive power. Barack Obama will be remembered for creating budget-busting social programs while Americans were caught in the headlights of unemployment and economic reversal. The citizen's fear is the politician's elixir. Certainty may be the promise of government, but uncertainty is the grease of free markets. Uncertainty was also America's midwife. Without a tolerance for uncertainty - and unhappiness - our nation's Founders might have remained in their rockers.

Previous generations understood that life is a gamble of uncertain returns. They were sometimes sad because life is sometimes sad. They were good at coping in bad times because downturns were more familiar than upticks. Today, we apparently trade liberty for certainty and our once-swashbuckling spirit for contentment, preferably in pill form. All we need is a nice aphorism to help the medicine go down. Here's one beloved by conservatives to get things rolling: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." Happy now?"

"Peak Oil Update: Production Peaked in 2008"

"World Oil Production: World crude oil, condensate and oil sands production peaked in 2008 at an average of 73.78 million barrels per day (mbd) which just exceeded the previous peak of 73.74 mbd in 2005, according to recent EIA production data. Production is expected to decline further as non OPEC oil production peaked in 2004 and is forecast to decline at a faster rate in 2009 and beyond due mainly to big declines from Russia, Norway, the UK and Mexico. Saudi Arabia's crude oil production peaked in 2005. By 2011, OPEC will not have the ability to offset cumulative non OPEC declines and world oil production is forecast to stay below its 2008 peak.

My estimate of 1.95 trillion barrels (TB) of total Ultimate Recoverable Reserves (URR) of oil is used to generate the forecast shown by the red line below. If Colin Campbell's estimate of 2.20 TB is used, which is 250 billion barrels (Gb) greater than my estimate due mainly to more optimistic assumptions about OPEC reserves, the peak production date remains at 2008. This shows that an additional 250 Gb of recoverable oil reserves does not change the peak oil date and instead increased production rates occur later as indicated by the green line below. Additional reserves and the related production from prospective areas such as the arctic, Iraq, and Brazil's Santos basin are highly unlikely to produce another peak but should decrease the production decline rate after 2012."
Click image for larger size.

“The important conclusion is that higher decline rates must be applied to giant fields that enter decline in the future. Prolonged plateau levels and increased depletion made possible by new and improved technology result in a generally higher decline rates. Detailed case studies of giant oilfields suggest that technology can extend the plateau phase, but at the expense of more pronounced declines in later years.

In conclusion, this analysis shows that the average decline rate of the giant oil fields have been increasing with time, reflecting the fact that more and more fields enter the decline phase and fewer and fewer new giant fields are being found. The increase is in part due to new technologies that have been able to temporarily maintain production at the expense of subsequent more rapid decline. Growing average decline rates have also been noted by IEA (2008). The difference between using a constant decline in existing production and an increasing decline rate is significant and could mean as much of a difference of 7 Mb/d by 2030."

"Implications: The future sources of liquids production discussed above will help decrease the future rate of decline but it is highly unlikely that the 2008 peak will be exceeded because there are not enough countries with increasing oil production able to offset those countries with decreasing oil production. IEA oil supply warnings have been made in late 2008 when chief economist Birol said that the world needs the equivalent of four new Saudi Arabias just to maintain existing production to 2030. In April 2009, IEA's executive director Tanaka said that the world may face a crude oil shortage by 2013. As world oil production declines, consumption must also decline. Consequently, action must be taken now to reduce oil consumption and switch to alternative renewable energy sources. These sources include electricity generation from wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and geothermal sources. Other sources might be ocean energy which includes tidal energy, wave energy, thermal energy and ocean algae biofuels. Ocean thermal energy conversion was the subject of an OTC.09 panel discussion.

The IEA has recently published some recommendations to improve energy efficiency which apply not just to individuals but also to industry. For example, in the transport sector, the IEA is encouraging the use of fuel efficient tires and introducing mandatory fuel efficiency standards for light duty vehicles. In addition, this IEA document, called Energy Efficiency Policy, also encourages energy efficiency by providing links to almost 30 documents containing energy efficiency policies. One of these documents called Saving Oil in a Hurry suggests many conservation actions including increased use of public transit, car-pooling, telecommuting and speed limit restrictions. For further information, the IEA has its own energy efficiency web page. This recent Oil Drum story proposes many oil conservation ideas for individuals such as moving to a walkable neighbourhood and trading in your car for one with better mileage.

There is no simple solution to the problem of declining world oil production. A simultaneous multipronged approach will emerge which not only addresses oil conservation but also the development of alternative renewable energy sources. As oil production declines, a possible solution is to secure long term oil supply contracts ahead of the next oil price shock. China has been securing long term oil supplies from Russia, Venezuela and Iran. As oil remains critical for economic activity there is a high probability that some countries will act more aggressively in securing oil supplies, even to the extent of oil resource wars. In mid May 2009, Russia raised the prospect of war to enforce its claims on Arctic oil and gas riches."

"Subliminal Smells Affect Likeability"

"It’s not just puppy dogs who affectionately sniff to get to know you better—humans do it too, we just aren’t aware that we’re doing it. New research from Northwestern University suggests that humans pick up infinitesimal scents that instantly affect whether or not we like somebody. “We evaluate people every day and make judgments about who we like or don’t like,” explains a post-doctoral fellow, Wen Li. “We may think our judgments are based only on various conscious bits of information, but our senses also may provide subliminal perceptual information that affects our behavior.”

Li was lead author of the study published in the December issue of Psychological Science called “Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences”. The research found that even minute amounts of odors elicited salient psychological and physiological changes that indicate that humans get much more information from barely perceptible scents than scientists have previously realized.

To test whether subliminal odors alter social preferences, participants were asked to sniff bottles with three different scents: lemon (good), sweat (bad) and ethereal (neutral). The scents ranged from levels that could be consciously smelled to those that bordered on being completely imperceptible. Study participants were informed that an odor would be present in 75 percent of the trials. Most participants were not aware of the barely perceptible odors. After sniffing from each of the bottles, they were shown a face with a neutral expression and asked to evaluate it using one of six different rankings, ranging from extremely likeable to extremely unlikeable.

People who were slightly better than average at figuring out whether the minimal smell was present didn’t seem to be biased by the subliminal scents, but everyone else did seem to like faces more or less depending on the “subliminal” smell they’d just whiffed. “The study suggests that people conscious of the barely noticeable scents were able to discount that sensory information and just evaluate the faces,” Li said. “It only was when smell sneaked in without being noticed that judgments about likeability were biased.”

The conclusions fit with recent studies using visual stimuli that suggest that top-down control mechanisms in the brain can be exerted on unconscious processing even though individuals have no awareness of what is being controlled. “When sensory input is insufficient to provoke a conscious olfactory experience, subliminal processing prevails and biases perception,” Paller said. “But as the awareness of a scent increases, greater executive control in the brain is engaged to counteract unconscious olfaction.” The acute sensitivity of human olfaction tends to be under appreciated. “In general, people tend to be dismissive of human olfaction and discount the role that smell plays in our everyday life,” said Gottfried. “Our study offers direct evidence that human social behavior is under the influence of miniscule amounts of odor, at concentrations too low to be consciously perceived, indicating that the human sense of smell is much keener than commonly thought.” In other words, maybe some nice cologne or perfume is more than just a luxurious holiday gift—it may inadvertently make people like the recipient more. Just remember to go light if you want the subliminal effect."

The Daily "Near You?'

Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"New 'Yin-Yang' Crop Circle Discovered"

"Is this an amazing work of art, or of something from science-fiction? The neat, intricate pattern does pose the question - how on earth was it made?

The huge crop circle sculpted in a sea of barley seems to be based on the Yin and Yang theme, and appeared near an ancient British burial mound beneath Windmill Hill near Devizes, Wiltshire on 25 May. The ancient area of Wiltshire close to Silbury Hill, Windmill Hill and the Sanctuary is a hot spot for crop circles. At around 350 ft in length, it is hard to explain its creation - indeed, the mystery of how crop circles are made has never been solved. Cynics have claimed the patterns are the work of computer scientists using teams of volunteers - but crop circle enthusiasts argue there are not enough hours of darkness in summer to allow them to be completed by humans.

Wiltshire is a hot spot for these field-based phenomenons - its green and golden fields have spawned an array of patterns in the past that have fascinated those who seek them out. Enthusiasts and experienced crop pattern hunters have often spotted formations appearing close to these sacred sites. The crop circle season - from April to harvesting in September - is believed to be worth millions of pounds to the local economy. This example is an elaborate aul formation consisting of a centre circle with two large and two small arcs extended and connected by circles of decreasing size.

Windmill Hill is thought be date back to the Early Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago, constructed as a causeway enclosure, and it is thought the camp housed a large farming community during a relatively peaceful and prosperous time before the Romans invaded Britain - evidence of their presence is provided by a villa on the western slopes of the mound."

"The Greatest Threat To Democracy? A Passive Public"

"Forget the loss of investigative journalism. The passive American public is the biggest threat to democracy.

Without a bailout, newspapers will lay off staff, fewer journalists will report important stories, there will be no Fourth Estate check on state and corporate power, and the country will suffer. So goes the pro-democracy case for government and/or altruistic investors to save the newspaper industry with an infusion of cash.

Except, amid the debate about such a bailout, it seems government and investors are already subsidizing the industry with in-kind contributions of damning honesty. These outbursts of candor are so brazen and self-explanatory as to require almost zero reportorial resources for blockbuster scoops.

It started in January, when it seemed America would need enterprising journalists to find out whether President Obama's Wall Street-connected economic team was focused on helping average Americans, or on protecting the super-wealthy speculator class. Typically, newspapers have to go all Woodward and Bernstein to answer such questions of influence and loyalties. They have to circumvent diversionary press-secretary spin, dig up documents and ferret out leaks - and all of that takes money they increasingly do not have.

But then Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner came right out and said, "We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we'd like to do our best to preserve that system." As Bloomberg News correctly noted, the White House was open about its primary "goal of preserving the private banking system." Motives admitted, objectives acknowledged, no expensive investigative reporting necessary.

On Wall Street, forget needing a resource-bolstered business press to cut through saccharine-yet-deceitful corporate speak. J. Christopher Flowers, one of the finance industry's richest speculators, has been publicly noting that when it comes to the federal rescue plan, "the government has all the downside and we have all the upside," meaning "lowlife grave dancers like me will make a fortune." And no need for a corps of gotcha correspondents to catch contrite and newly ascetic Wall Streeters secretly living it up - execs long ago said they are still paying out big bonuses and salaries, with one insisting that pay caps are unacceptable because "$500,000 is not a lot of money."

Maybe the ruling class knows that after the Bush years' blatant extremism, corruption and robbery, horrifying truth has lost its shock-and-gag value and, thus, its potential for consequences. And maybe if Americans figure out how to re-create tangible ramifications for wrongdoing, officialdom's in-kind contributions of honesty will end and democracy's survival will require a newspaper renaissance.

Until then, though, the biggest threat to democracy is less the regrettably decimated journalism industry than the disenfranchised public. If we cannot or will not turn already reported news into immediate action, then no newspaper, however profitable or aggressive, can bail us out in the future."

Benjamin Franklin, "Democracy"

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.
Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.
- Ben Franklin

"It's A Trap!"

“One of my Marine buddies from 2-5 sent this to me. I thought I'd share it."
"A large group of Taliban fighters is moving down a ravine in the Korengal Valley, in southern Afghanistan, when they hear a hoarse voice call from behind a sand-dune in a mocking tone, "Yo, muj, did you know that one Marine is better than ten of you smelly Talib?" Insulted to the quick (though he did indeed smell), the Taliban commander sent ten of his best men over the rocky hill, whereupon a gunbattle broke out immediately. The gunbattle was short, but vicious, punctuated by screams of agony and fear in Dari and Pushtu. Then there was silence.

A moment later, there was a snicker, then the same voice called out, "Bad Muj! Didn't you know one grunt is better than any hundred so-called Taliban fighters?" Furious now, the Taliban commander sent his next best hundred men up and over the incline and instantly a terrible gunfight ensued. The sharp chatter of M-4 fire barked out in counterpoint to the dull clatter of the Kalashnikovs, interspersed with the detonations of grenades and screams of agony and fear in Pushtu and Dari. After a full five minutes of battle, silence reigned heavily across the valley.

A moment later that same mocking voice called out, though to be fair to the muj, the grunt was obviously breathing at least a little bit faster. The voice called out, "Bad Muj, silly muj, you have to know that one grunt is better than one thousand sheep-loving Taliban!" Thoroughly enraged now, the Taliban commander mustered a full thousand of his fighters and sent them into the fight. RPGs hissed and boomed, hand grenades exploded, echoing down the Korengal Valley and even PKM fire rattled and roared over all the small arms fire. At last, one badly wounded muj fighter appeared, crawling down the crest of the ridge. "Don't send any more men," he gasped as the life fled his body, "It's a trap. There's two of them."

I know, I know, it's moto and it's stupid, but I liked it.”

Douglas Adams

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."
- Douglas Adams

The Economy: "Class of '09: You're Screwed"

"Last weekend, we journeyed to Boston to attend a college graduation. Thousands of callow scholars were on display. Each was handed his papers…and then marched out of the hockey stadium. To the tune of ‘Pomp & Circumstance,’ wearing a long, red robe, he entered the outside world solemnly…like a patsy joining a poker game. So far, not a single major university has asked us to make the commencement address. Nor a minor college. Not even a school of cosmetology or taxidermy. But here at the Daily Reckoning headquarters in London, protected by a broad ocean and a narrow reading of the First Amendment, we will give them – and UK graduates too – advice no one asked for.

“Plastics,” was the advice given to college graduates in Mike Nichols’ ’67 film. But that was when there was still hope for America’s manufacturing sector. Even then, it was too late. The percentage of GDP from the manufacturing sector fell for the next four decades, from over 20% in the last ’60s to barely 12% last year. Better advice would have been ‘derivatives.’ They stank just as bad, but they were much more profitable. While only 8% of GDP, finance accounted for 40% of corporate profits in 2007. And derivatives grew from nothing to a face value of 16 times the GDP of the entire planet. But your elders are always giving you bum advice.

“You cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect to share its honors,” said Pericles to the class of 430 BC. He lived during a time not unlike your parents’ era in the USA – when Athens was on top of the world. But vanity got the better of him. He launched an attack on Sparta that backfired badly. He soon died of plague and Athens was not only ruined, but enslaved. Athens’ ‘golden age’ turned to lead. Young Athenians should have shrugged off the burden rather than accept it. You should do the same.

When you were born 20-some years ago, the nation’s total debt per person was less than $90,000 – adjusted to ’09 dollars, of course. While that was a lot of money, it was nothing compared to what was coming. Now it’s $186,717 per person – more than twice as much, in real terms. Fortunately, private debt is not inheritable. But it comes to you as a lien against property. Instead of paying off their mortgages and leaving you a house, free and clear, the baby boomer generation spent the ‘equity’ in their houses even faster than they got it. House prices rose. But mortgage debt rose faster. While your grandparents owned 80% of their houses, by 2007, the typical homeowner only really owned 4 rooms of an 8-room house. And then, when house prices fell, so did his remaining equity…to the point where one out of six homeowners in America is now underwater. You could still eventually inherit a house, but you may have to scrape the barnacles off the front porch. But that’s not even the half of it. While your parents had control of the US government they allowed themselves a little larceny. Add the unfunded retirement and healthcare benefits they voted for themselves to the official national debt, and together they are scheduled to cost your generation 4 times the total annual output of the US. This is over and above the private debt they accumulated.

Some of this debt can be carried. Some will have to paid down. But as it stands, as much as $77 trillion of post-’09 earnings must be stolen from the future in order to pay for the liquor your parents drank…the bombs they dropped on god-forsaken foreigners…and the interest on their debts. So, forget about saving for a European vacation or a house of your own. Even if every penny of your savings – and every other American’s savings – are put to the task you will still be paying for your parents’ expenses all your life.

But wait, there’s more! The burden is getting heavier. Federal budget projections show an additional $7 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years. Described as the cost of fighting recession, the present generation buries its own mistakes under cash that the next generation hasn’t even earned yet. Today’s bankers, businessmen and speculators are being bankrolled by you – tomorrow’s bankers, businessmen and speculators. Today’s homeowners get a helping hand…from whom? Tomorrow’s homeowners – you. Today’s employees get a boost too. Same story. Where do you think the money came from to pay Wall Street bonuses this year? How do you think GM stays in business…and Fannie Mae…and AIG… Who pays those salaries? Who pays to keep troops all over the world and keep old people supplied with new drugs? Who pays for hundreds of billions’ worth of ‘shovel ready’ boondoggles? You will. At least, that’s the plan.

The luck of one generation is the curse of the next. Like Pericles, your parents inherited a dollar; they leave you a peso. They took over the strongest, richest, most competitive nation in the world. And like Pericles they minded everyone’s business but their own. Now, not only does the US owe money all over town, its government puts out trillions more in IOUs every year – each one with your name on it. You’re not even out in the real world yet, and you’re getting the bill for 50 cents of every dollar the feds spend – almost none of it earmarked for you. But that is the thing about the real world your teachers probably forgot to tell you about. It is more unreal and fantastical than anything you studied. Here’s what’s real: You’ve been dealt a bad hand. From the bottom of the deck…your parents have slipped you some nasty cards. Our advice? Fold ’em. Get up from the table before they clean you out."
- Bill Bonner, The Daily Reckoning,