Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Time Out!

I'm taking a 24 hour time out offline, tending to some personal real life matters, and will be back here tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, there are 15,765 posts here for your perusal. Commenting is turned off to deter those pesky live link spammers. Enjoy the day, folks, and be kind to each other, we're all we've got. See you shortly! - CP

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Meaningful Warnings..."

“There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy. But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive; you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?”
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"A Look to the Heavens"

"Similar in size to other large, bright spiral galaxies, IC 342 is a mere 7 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation Camelopardalis. A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would otherwise be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is almost hidden from view behind the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. 
 Click image for larger size.
Even though IC 342's light is dimmed by intervening cosmic clouds, this remarkably sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy's own obscuring dust, blue star clusters, and glowing pink star forming regions along spiral arms that Wind far from the galaxy's core. IC 342 may have undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way."

Chet Raymo, "Dust"

by Chet Raymo

"In Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters" sister Masha refuses "to live and not know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why the stars are in the sky. Either you know and you're alive or its all nonsense, all dust in the wind." Why? Why? The striving to know is what frees us from the bonds of self, said Einstein. It's the striving, rather than our knowledge - which is always tentative and partial - that is important.

I've been living with grandchildren for the past few weeks. They seem to me to spend an inordinate amount of time with smart phones, iPads, and computers. In this, I'm sure, they are like most of their contemporaries, immersed in virtual realities, flickering pixels. I sometimes feel the urge to drag them outside for some reality reality. Let them see an eclipsed moon rising in the east, a pink pearl. Let them stand in a morning dawn and watch a slip of comet fling its tail around the Sun. Let them admire the stars of Orion on a sparkling winter evening - red Betelgeuse, blue Rigel - and shiver in the thrall of cold and beauty.

Ah, yes, I know. Kids are kids and they'll turn out OK. They'll probably end up in a better place than I find myself at 75. I suppose I spent an equal amount of time sitting next to the radio listening to Tom Mix and Sky King. Still, it's as Masha says: "Either you know and you're alive or its all nonsense, all dust in the wind." So let the children know. Let them know that nothing they will find in the virtual worlds of e-games, television or the internet matters half so much as a glitter of stars on an inky sky, drawing our attention into the incomprehensible mystery of why the universe is here at all, and why we are here to observe it. The summer Milky Way arches across the sky, a hundred billion individually invisible points of light, a hundred billion revelations of the Ultimate Mystery, conferring on the watcher a dignity, a blessedness, that confounds the dull humdrum of the commonplace and opens a window to infinity.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Do You Remember?"

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

Psychology: “20 Quotes on Dealing with Button-Pushers”

“20 Quotes on Dealing with Button-Pushers”
by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D.

"We all know the type. The people that seem to instinctively know just how to irritate and anger us. Everyone has buttons that get pushed, and everyone has at least one button-pusher in his or her life. Read on for quotes on how to deal with those people that just know how to drive you up a wall.

"Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people." - Carl Jung

"When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity." 
- Dale Carnegie

"Dealing with backstabbers, there was one thing I learned. They're only powerful when you got your back turned." - Eminem

"Seek the best in everyone that you meet. Seek the worst when dealing with yourself." - Sasha Azevedo

"If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are." - John W. Gardner

" appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique." - Annie Gottlieb (Okay, so they may be unique at how well they can push your buttons.) :)

"If we are ever in doubt about what to do, it is a good rule to ask ourselves what we shall wish on the morrow that we had done." - John Lubbock

"I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to." - Unknown

"If it was necessary to tolerate in other people everything that one permits oneself, life would be unbearable." - Georges Courteline

"In all men is evil sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men." - Mary Renault

"We are constantly being put to the test by trying circumstances and difficult people and problems not necessarily of our own making." - Terry Brooks

"It usually takes two people a little while to learn where the funny buttons are and testy buttons are." - Matt Lauer

"I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me." - Thomas Merton

"Parents know how to push your buttons because, hey, they sewed them on." - Camryn Manheim

"Everybody has a hot button. Who is pushing yours? While you probably cannot control that person, you CAN control the way you react to them." - Unknown

"I just know how to deal with the players different now. You've got to learn as a coach, and especially first year with new players, which buttons to push, and how to push them, and when to push them." - Sam Mitchell  ( that's why they do it!)

"No, ... He doesn't push buttons." - Darth Vader (I think we can safely assume that no one would want to push Darth Vader's buttons.)

"I am trying to push people's buttons and see how they respond to things.  We are trying to create tension situations like in a game and trying to get guys to fight through some of that stuff." - Brian Joyce

Kellerman: "Why do you push her buttons every chance you get?"
Lewis: "Because it is so easy." - "Homicide: Life on the Street"

"Don't push my buttons without reading the manual." - Gadgetmobile, Inspector Gadget

"The New Dark Age? What is the 'Olduvai Theory?'"

"The New Dark Age? What is the 'Olduvai Theory?'"
by Elite E Services

"Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can
any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole."
- Joseph A. Tainter, 1988

"Modern humans take pride in themselves and their society due to its perceived superiority. It is contrasted most starkly with a period in Europe known as the Dark Ages, a period of little documented innovation, writing, scientific discovery, and general backwardness. The Olduvai theory states that industrial civilization (as defined by per capita energy consumption) will have a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years (1930-2030). The theory provides a quantitative basis of the transient-pulse theory of modern civilization. The name is a reference to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Industrial Civilization is defined in Duncan's paper as the time approximately from when energy production per capita rises from 37% of the peak value to when it falls to below 37% of its peak value (1930-2030) i.e. the peak in energy production per capita is in between these two endpoints and these two endpoints have values of 37% of the peak value.

Click image for larger size.

The Olduvai theory claims that exponential growth of energy production ended in 1979, that energy use per capita will show no growth through 2008, and that after 2008 energy growth will become sharply negative, culminating, after a Malthusian catastrophe, in a world population of 2 billion circa 2050. The Olduvai Theory divides human history into three phases. The first "pre-industrial" phase stretches over most of human history when simple tools and weak machines limited economic growth. The second "industrial" phase encompasses modern industrial civilization where machines temporarily lift all limits to growth. The final "de-industrial" phase follows where industrial economies decline to a period of equilibrium with renewable resources and the natural environment. The decline of the industrial phase is broken into three sections:

• The Olduvai slope (1979–1999) - energy per capita 'declined at 0.33%/year'.
• The Olduvai slide (2000–2011) - 'begins ... with the escalating warfare in the Middle East... marks the all-time peak of world oil production'.
• The Olduvai cliff (2012–2030) - 'begins ... in 2012 when an epidemic of permanent blackouts spreads worldwide, i.e. first there are waves of brownouts and temporary blackouts, then finally the electric power networks themselves expire'.

This theory implies that all of our recent ‘advancement’ is actually man simply burning a big oil-fire. We have convinced ourselves that this is not the case, actually man is smarter and has developed significant technology which is the cause of our economic success. However studies show that the human brain has not evolved much for the last 100,000 years.

Functional Illiteracy: There are college graduates who ‘don’t read’, an anecdotal observation. Someone said, “It’s great that they made a movie about this topic for people like me who don’t actually read.” It’s easy to brush off statement like this as individual dumb statements, off the cuff remarks with no meaning. But what if this is part of a larger trend? What if there is a growing mass of college graduates who ‘don’t read’? We can see this trend on sites like, here:

In a recent movie “Idiocracy,” Mike Judge dramatizes the ‘dumbing down’ of modern man: "A narrator (Earl Mann) explains that in modern society, natural selection has become indifferent toward intelligence, so that in a society in which intelligence is systematically debased, stupid people easily out-breed the intelligent, creating, over the course of five centuries, an irredeemably dysfunctional society. Demographic superiority favors those least likely to advance society. Consequently, the children of the educated élites are drowned in a sea of sexually promiscuous, illiterate, alcoholic, degenerate peers." People who cannot read are illiterate. What do we call those who choose not to read, especially those warning labels on batteries “Do Not Eat?”

The Breakdown: What signs would we find that are tangible, not ‘theory’? Spelling mistakes in professional, completed projects. The below is from Microsoft Server 2003: "They will say ‘it doesn’t matter’ and ‘you’re nit-picking’.. A spelling mistake can mean the difference between winning or losing a legal case. For example, if you are arrested and the officer misspells your name, it can be grounds for dismissal (unless they have other evidence that it was you). Joe and Joel are 2 different people, and a ‘reuable’ wine bag could have many implications. A driver who sees a SOTP sign may thing many things but not STOP."

Devo: The concept that man is declining is not a new concept, it was popularized in pop-culture by rock band Devo: The name "Devo" comes "from their concept of 'de-evolution' - the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society." This idea was developed as a joke by Kent State University art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis as early as the late 1960s. Casale and Lewis created a number of art pieces in a vein of devolution satirically. At this time, Casale had also performed with the local band 15-60-75. They met Mark Mothersbaugh around 1970, who introduced them to the pamphlet Jocko Homo Heavenbound, which includes an illustration of a winged devil labeled "D-EVOLUTION" and would later inspire the song "Jocko Homo".

Is modern society collapsing? Or are humans simply de-evolving? Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects: "a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge. The human race would peak in the year 3000, he said - before a decline due to dependence on technology. People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species, he added. The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures."

We are entering a world that no longer follows rules of logic and order. Things that simply should not happen are happening on a regular basis. The 100-year storms are happening every year. Anomaly is the norm. The decline in society was seen as early as 1992 (and perhaps much earlier) and is documented in an article published by the Schiller Institute: "The people of North America and Western Europe now accept a level of ugliness in their daily lives which is almost without precedent in the history of Western civilization. Most of us have become so inured, that the death of millions from starvation and disease draws from us no more than a sigh, or a murmur of protest. Our own city streets, home to legions of the homeless, are ruled by Dope, Inc., the largest industry in the world, and on those streets Americans now murder each other at a rate not seen since the Dark Ages.

At the same time, a thousand smaller horrors are so commonplace as to go unnoticed. Our children spend as much time sitting in front of television sets as they do in school, watching with glee, scenes of torture and death which might have shocked an audience in the Roman Coliseum. Music is everywhere, almost unavoidable—but it does not uplift, nor even tranquilize—it claws at the ears, sometimes spitting out an obscenity. Our plastic arts are ugly, our architecture is ugly, our clothes are ugly. There have certainly been periods in history where mankind has lived through similar kinds of brutishness, but our time is crucially different. Our post-World War II era is the first in history in which these horrors are completely avoidable. Our time is the first to have the technology and resources to feed, house, educate, and humanely employ every person on earth, no matter what the growth of population. Yet, when shown the ideas and proven technologies that can solve the most horrendous problems, most people retreat into implacable passivity. We have become not only ugly, but impotent."

In our modern definition of the ‘new dark age’ – many cannot see the obvious paradox defining our age: Hurry up and wait. Save by buying a second item and get 50% off. We need to save the economy by bailing out the banks (who were responsible for the crisis). Information has never been historically more accessible, yet literacy and education rates are declining. Unlike the previous Dark Age, we have abundant technology and widespread communications systems (computers and the internet) so we have a front row seat for the greatest movie ever produced."

Paleoanthropology: "Sex With Neanderthals Gave Humans An Immune Boost"

"Sex With Neanderthals Gave Humans An Immune Boost"
by NewsCore

"Sexual encounters with archaic humans like the Neanderthals produced children who inherited key genes that have helped modern humans fight illness and disease, a study has found. "The cross-breeding wasn't just a random event that happened, it gave something useful to the gene pool of the modern human," said Stanford University's Peter Parham, senior author of the study in the journal "Science."

Equipped with knowledge of the genome of the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, of whom a tooth and a finger bone were discovered in a Russian cave last year, researchers scoured the data for hints of what genes crossed over. Scientists already knew that about four percent of Neanderthal DNA and up to six percent of Denisovan DNA are present in some modern humans. This study took a close look at a group called HLA class I genes which help the immune system adapt to fight off new pathogens that could cause various infections, viruses and diseases.

Researchers traced the origin of one type, HLA-B*73, to the Denisovans, who likely mated with humans arriving in West Asia on their way out of Africa. The variant is rare in modern African populations but is common in people in west Asia. "We think this had a lot to do with the pathogenic environment in different parts of the world," said Laurent Abi-Rached, a French researcher and lead author of the study. "When modern humans came out of Africa, they were going into a new environment. This gave them an advantage. It was a rapid way of acquiring defense."

These ancient HLA genes have multiplied among modern populations and are seen in more than half of Eurasians today, said the study. "If canoodling was the whole story, that's an awful lot of genes," said Milford Wolpoff, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved with the study but said he supported its findings. "This is called multiregional evolution. We have been talking about this for 30 years," he told AFP. "Many of the genes we find are doing something useful. The only answer for that is natural selection."

Neanderthals died off about 30,000 years ago. They and the Denisovans shared a common ancestor with modern humans about 400,000 years ago. Modern humans eclipsed these ancient cousins when our contemporaries began expanding into Asia and Europe from Africa about 65,000 years ago. Some mating must have occurred, given the evidence that lingers in our DNA, but even the latest findings have shed little light on the nature of those relationships - whether violent or consensual, short or long-term. "Even though there was probably interbreeding, that was not necessarily very frequent," said Abi-Rached. "But it has played a major role in shaping modern human immunity."

Abi-Rached said he hopes further research will reveal more about the role that the immune genes may have played in protecting those who survived but also their role in auto-immune diseases that humans face today. The work of studying the legacies left by ancient ancestors in our bodies could lead to new pathways for treatment of modern diseases, which has researchers excited about the potential of the emerging field. "Most of the money in genetics is related to diseases," said Dr Wolpoff. "Paleoanthropology is just like politics. You follow the money."
Related: “Ancient DNA Reveals That Some Neanderthals Were Redheads”

The Daily "Near You?"

Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Just Once..."

"But because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all. Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too, just once. And never again. But to have been this once, completely, even if only once: to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing."
- Rainer Maria Rilke

Alex Noble, “Hurricane”

by Alex Noble

“We watch the animated weather maps, the colored dots, the little animated swirls that creep up the coast.  Like gods, we look at NASA photos of swirling storm clouds. We get minute by minute reports of wind speed, humidity, rainfall, and unless you are right there, right under that big swirling white mass, unless you are packing up your car, unless you are watching flood waters rise and cars and trees tumbling down the river , unless you are right there, it is all somehow abstract, and strangely devoid of meaning.  Weather, some pundits now tell us, has become entertainment, another opening, another show, and Mother Nature has become the new Diva of the environment.  And so those of us thousands of miles away have a hard time imagining what it must be like, even though we try to send prayers, and even, in secret acts of micro-hubris, imagine that we may even be able to break up that cloud mass, send that huge spiraling storm system out to sea.  We cannot even get our brains around the idea that windows in New York could blow out of skyscrapers and send huge sheets of shattered glass to the streets below. We cannot imagine flooded subways, and cities brought to a standstill, but there is a tendency to remember all this from disaster movies – more weather as entertainment.  And so we feel perhaps helpless, and that is the worst part, that feeling of weather as spectator sport, while houses and communities literally drown. Weather as video game. Weather as the nightly news. I find all this vaguely disturbing, this way in which we have become distant observers of wars, disasters, floods, storms, fires.  I find this vaguely disturbing, a disconnect, and yet I cannot say exactly why.  It is not a good feeling. I find myself wanting to feel compassion and some connect, but there is an emptiness about it all, and I ask, is this what we are becoming, voyeurs of these small endings of the world, that now populate our screens, and our minds, and our dreams?”

The Borowitz Report: “Cheney’s Book Features Foreword by Satan”

“Cheney’s Book Features Foreword by Satan”
‘Couldn’t Put it Down,’ Says Prince of Darkness
by Andy Borowitz

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – "Publishing circles were abuzz today with the news that the new memoir by former Vice President Dick Cheney features a foreword by an unusual contributor: Satan. In his introduction, the Prince of Darkness said he rarely reads political memoirs but made an exception in the case of Mr. Cheney “because we had worked so closely together in the past.” When he began to read the Cheney manuscript, however, the Lord of Misrule said he was “surprised” by what he found. “Quite honestly, I couldn’t put it down,” Satan wrote.  “It was almost like a book I would have written myself.”

In what could be construed as minor criticism of the book, Satan admitted he was “miffed” that Mr. Cheney took total credit for the idea of invading Iraq, but added, “We were such close collaborators at the time, it may be hard for Dick to remember whose idea was whose – half the time we were finishing each other’s sentences.” While Satan said he is unlikely to make a habit of writing introductions to books, he said that he could foresee making another exception in the future: “I’ve heard Rupert Murdoch is working on his memoir.”

Elsewhere, after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) said God created last week’s earthquake and hurricane to punish America, God issued this rebuttal: “Actually, that’s why I created Michele Bachmann.”
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Waste Someone's Time: Forward to a Friend: 

The Poet: Mary Oliver, "In Blackwater Woods"

 "Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light,
are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment, 
the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating 
away over the blue shoulders of the ponds,
and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now.

Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this:
the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning none of us will ever know.

To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go."

- Mary Oliver, "In Blackwater Woods"

Malcolm Kushner, “I'd Like a Word With You”

“I'd Like a Word With You”
by Malcolm Kushner

“Publication of a new edition of The Chambers Dictionary, Britain's "bible" for word worshippers, has caused a stir among linguistic conservatives and traditionalists. The latest version of the famed reference work now includes numerous new words reflecting current British trends, technology and culture. Words such as "jeggings" (a hybrid of jeans and leggings) and "skank" (a derogatory term for a loose woman). Should Shakespeare be turning over in his grave or "tweeting" in delight?

Not surprisingly, the Internet provides one of the largest sources of new words. Among new terms now officially recognized are "crowd-sourcing" (which refers to using the web to mobilize a large group of people); as well as "paywall," "tweet," and Facebook-related expressions "defriend" and "unfriend." Other new words reflect the troubled world economy such as "toxic assets," "double dip," "overleaveraged" and "staycation." Texting abbreviations "OMG" (Oh my God) and "BFF" (Best friends forever) have also made the new edition. And then there are miscellaneous new words such as "globesity" (referring to a worldwide epidemic of weight gain) and "locavore" (someone who only eats local produce).

Actually, Shakespeare might have liked having more material to work with. "Unfriends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears." "What is sharper than a serpent's text?" "All the Web's a stage." "To BFF or not to BFF, that is the question." David Swarbrick, managing director at Chambers, believes that the new set of words provides a portrait of Britain over the last few years. He has been quoted as saying, "Every new generation needs to see the impact that they have made in society. Different generations make different impacts. I think young people are probably the most creative agents for new words because they're not held back by convention."

A good example of a creative new word used by young people is "sexting" (exchanging text messages of a sexual nature). But the word was deemed too new for inclusion in the latest edition of The Chambers Dictionary. Here are a few more words that were omitted:

    * Clairvoyantique - yesterday's vision of the future
    * Cybereavement - mourning a computer that died before back-up
    * Elevatorture - listening to someone's elevator pitch
    * Fiscalamity - announcement of poor annual results
    * Guruins - remains of company after visionary CEO takes golden parachute
    * Migrateful - happy for lateral career move that gets you away from your boss
    * Mindsharecropper - someone who horns in on your ideas and farms the best of them
    * Priceberg - hidden cost of paying more than you can afford
    * Pushwhacked - failed to see pushback coming
    * Robusted - product with so many features that customers hate it
    * Sofacillitate - ease a person out of their job and into their living room
    * Telepathetic - believing that you can read your boss' mind
    * Yenabler - any country that keeps lending to Japan
    * Zenvision - sound of one strategic plan slapping itself

How should we feel about the omission of these words from The Chambers Dictionary while terms such as "skank" and "OMG" were included? Well, linguistic traditionalists will find it both good and bad news. Or as Charles Dickens might have observed, "It was the best of times. It was the WTF of times."

"How It Really Is"

Earl Nightingale, "The Time Will Pass Anyway..."

“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something
stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; 
we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”
- Earl Nightingale

John (Fire) Lame Deer, "The Green Frog Skin"

"The Green Frog Skin"
by John (Fire) Lame Deer

"The Green Frog Skin – that’s what I call the dollar bill. In our attitude towards it lies the biggest difference between the Indians and the whites. My grandparents grew up in an Indian world without money. Just before the Custer battle the white soldiers had received their pay. Their pockets were full of green paper and they had no place to spend it. What were their last thoughts as an Indian bullet or arrow hit them? I guess they were thinking of all that money going to waste, of not having had a chance to enjoy it, of a bunch of dumb savages getting their paws on that hard-earned pay. That must have hurt them more than the arrow between their ribs.

The close hand-to-hand fighting, with a thousand horses gally-hooting all over the place, had covered the battlefield with an enormous cloud of dust, and in it the green frog skins of the soldiers were whirling around like snowflakes in a blizzard. Now, what did the Indians do with all that money? They gave it to their children to play with, to fold those strange bits of coloured paper into all kinds of shapes, making into toy buffalo and horses. Somebody was enjoying that money after all.

The books tell of one soldier who survived. He got away, but he went crazy and some women watched him from a distance as he killed himself. The writers always say that he must have been afraid of being captured and tortured, but that’s all wrong. Can’t you see it? There he is, bellied down in a gully, watching what is going on. He sees the kids playing with the money, tearing it up, the women using it to fire up some dried buffalo chips to cook on, the men lighting their pipes with green frog skins, but mostly all those beautiful dollar bills floating away with the dust and the wind. It’s this sight that drove the poor soldier crazy. He’s clutching his head, hollering, ‘Goddam, Jesus Christ Almighty, look at them dumb, stupid, red sons of bitches wasting all that dough!’ He watches till he can’t stand it any longer, and then he blows his brains out with a six-shooter. It would make a great scene in a movie, but it would take an Indian mind to get the point."

- John (Fire) Lame Deer, "Seeker of Visions"

Mike Whitney, "What's Going On With The U.S. Economy?"

"What's Going On With The U.S. Economy?"
By Mike Whitney

“It's too bad we don't have a financial media that's willing to explain what's going on in simple terms, but we don't. Instead, we're deluged with daily datapoints that have little meaning to the average working slob who just wants to know whether he's going to have a job tomorrow or if the company he works for is going to pack-it-in and head for Shandong Province.

Monday's report on consumer spending is a perfect example of how the media distorts the news to create a cheery narrative of "economic recovery". Here's a clip from Bloomberg: "Consumer spending climbed more than forecast in July as Americans dipped into savings to buy cars and cool their homes, showing the biggest part of the economy is holding up. Purchases rose 0.8 percent, the biggest gain since February, after a 0.1 percent decline the prior month, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 74 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 0.5 percent increase. Incomes grew 0.3 percent, pushing the savings rate to a four-month low.

Industry data showed autos sold at the fastest pace in three months as supply constraints from Japan’s March earthquake began to ease, while outlays on services, which includes utilities like electricity and gas, climbed at the fastest pace since December 2009." (Bloomberg) Hurrah! The slump is over! The indomitable US consumer has once again hoisted himself off the canvas and stumbled back to the shopping malls and car lots in a selfless effort to keep the global economy plugging along. Does anyone believe this gibberish?

Now, let's take a more sober approach to the data and see if we can figure out what's really going on behind the hype. This is an excerpt from a post at Zero Hedge: "July personal income and expenditures were quite surprising in that while many were expecting the drop in the market to force consumer saving to upshift (lower spending than income), not only was this not true, but expenditures spiked by 1 whole percent from -0.2% to 0.8%, on expectations of 0.5%, even as Personal Income came in line with expectations of 0.3%, up from a revised 0.2% (concurrent with extensive prior data revisions).

This was the biggest difference between a monthly change in income and spending since October 2009. The net result was a plunge in the savings rate from 5.5% to 5.0%. And while on the surface this would be good news, as in Americans are spending again, a quick look at the PCE components indicates that virtually the entire surge is due to a spike in Energy goods and services. In other words, the entire spike in spending was to... pay for gas and associated energy expenses... All in all: in July Americans continued to max out their credit cards to pay for gas." ("Personal Saving Rate Plunges From 5.5% To 5.0% As July Energy Expenditures Soar", Zero Hedge) Okay, so which article is closer to the truth; Bloomberg or Zero Hedge? Of course, consumers spent more money than before, but it had nothing to do "feeling flush" or being more optimistic about the future. Hell, no. They were forced to use their credit cards at the gaspump so they could haul their sorry ass to work in the morning. That's hardly a reason to celebrate.

So, what's really going on with the economy? Well, oddly enough, it's not that hard to explain, and it doesn't require a Masters in Economics to grasp the main points. To begin with, let's state the obvious: We're in a Depression. Yes, that's a "judgement call", but for 90 percent of working people in this country, the word accurately describes the slump we're in. Second, the political process is broken. Again, this fact is so obvious that it's hardly worth mentioning. The vast majority of people are thoroughly disgusted with the craven Wall Street duopoloy that masquerades as "representative government". "Representative" of who? Corporate fatcats and bank vermin?

"American democracy" is a contradiction in terms; a complete farce. Neither party has any plan for lowering unemployment, correcting chronic trade imbalances, re-regulating the financial system, or growing the economy. Capital Hill is merely an annex of Wall Street, just as the White House is entirely in the clutches of the brandy-swilling swine who run the big brokerage houses and hedge funds. They own it all, every bit of it. America is just one of many properties in their sordid portfolio.

Okay, enough ranting. Now onto the facts. US households are still underwater 3 full years after Lehman Brothers croaked. They've shed a good portion of their debts through default, foreclosure, personal bankruptcy and accelerated repayments, but the situation is still grave. There's lots more red ink to mop up and now that Obama's $787 billion fiscal stimulus has run out, it's going to be lot harder for them to clear their balance sheets.

Why is that? Because government spending reduces the real value of debt making deleveraging easier. But- as you may have noticed- the government's share of total spending is actually shrinking. State and local governments are cutting costs and laying off workers as fast as they can- over 500,000 state workers were fired in the last year and a half alone. It's a disaster. And the idiot Obama hasn't lifted a finger to reverse the trend. Instead, he's taken a sabbatical to Martha's Vineyard to see if he can shave a few strokes off his golf game. What a terrible president.

Anyway, household debt as a share of annual disposable income is currently 115 percent, down from 135 percent in 2008. Economists believe that the figure will eventually return to its historic range of 75 percent. And, there's the rub, because if consumers continue to slash spending and increase saving- as they need to do- then the economy will slow down even more greasing the skids for another vicious downturn.

Consider this: In the peak bubble years of 2003 to 2008 US households withdrew roughly $2.3 trillion from the home equity to spend as they pleased. Ironically, only about 20 percent of that sum was used in home improvements. The rest was used to pay off medical bills, credit card debt and, yes, discretionary spending. (Don't workers deserve an occasional "night on the town"?) In other words, the housing bubble provided $500 billion in extra consumption per year for 5 years, and it was all borrowed money! (Keep in mind Obama's stimulus was $800 billion, but that amount was spent over a 2-year period. So the $500 per year siphoned from home equity actually exceeded that of the ARRA.) Now that housing prices are dropping, the home equity ATM has been shut down leaving households mired in debts that will take years to pay off. That means consumption- which traditionally leads the way out of recession- will flag, demand will remain weak, business investment will dwindle, unemployment will stay high, and the economy will continue to drift sideways.

So, what does tell us about the "recovery"? The recovery was just another public relations fable with no basis in fact. Just look at the trajectory of GDP in the last couple years and you'll see what I mean: (4Q 2009- 3.8%; 1Q 2010- 3.9%; 2Q 2010- 3.8%; 3Q 2010- 2.5%; 4Q 2010- 2.3%; 1Q 2011- 0.4%, "revised" 2Q 2011- 0.9%) See the difference between the strong growth in 2009 to 2010, and the weak growth thereafter? The numbers coincide perfectly with the injections of stimulus. In other words, No stimulus, no recovery. So, now that the stimulus has dissipated and the home equity jet-fuel ($500 bil per year) has evaporated, who's going to spend enough money to keep the economy bobbing along in positive territory?

Big business? No way. Why would businesses make more products for people who have no money?

Consumers? Nope. They died in the Crash of '08. The only one who can maintain spending and keep the economy plugging-along while households get their balance sheets together, is the government. But that means more stimulus and bigger deficits, which both party's oppose. So nothing's going to get done, right? Oh yeah, there'll be more pompous pronouncements and political wrangling, but nothing of substance. The payroll tax holiday will end in December, unemployment benefits will get slashed, housing prices will continue to stumble, and - by election-time -the economy will be in a shambles.

Bottom line: The political process is broken, so the economy's going to tank. Bet on it."

"America's Great Health Care Takeaway"

"America's Great Health Care Takeaway"
by Shamus Cooke

"The health care crisis in the United States is getting worse with no visible end. The popular anger over unattainable or unaffordable health care has been diverted away from corporations by crafty politicians, always seeking to exploit a social disaster for their benefactors. Instead of making health care more affordable for the average person, politicians have successfully switched the messaging. Now, the purpose behind "reform" is to make health care less costly for governments and employers, at the expense of patients and workers. This was the essence behind Obama's health care reform. And although Republicans exploited the "individual mandate" in Obamacare to gain populist credentials, they wholeheartedly agree with the deeper philosophy of the plan, which aspires to control health care costs - for corporations and governments - by providing less health care services to those who need it. This agreement to "ration" health care aligns the two parties over the coming cuts to Medicare in Obama's bi-partisan "Super Congress,” while also binding the two parties' approach to health care on a state and business level. 

Most workers now understand that there is a difference between apparently having health care and actually having health care: if you are technically "insured" but cannot afford doctor visits due to high deductibles and co-pays, you really aren't insured.  This fact, applied to Medicare, has startling consequences. The New England Journal of Medicine found that, "For every 100 people enrolled in plans that raised co-pays, there were 20 fewer doctor visits, 2 additional hospital admissions and 13 more days spent in the hospital..."  When co-pays and deductibles are raised, people simply stop going to the doctor and use the emergency room as needed. 

This dynamic pleased politicians because less Medicare money was being spent on doctors’ visits, but they were upset that hospital stays were more frequent. The answer? Stop paying Medicare payments to hospitals if they re-admit a patient after 30 days, a policy sure to "reduce costs.” And it worked! This aspect of Obama's Affordable Health Care Act gives hospitals financial incentives not to admit patients and, according to Bloomberg, is a major reason that Medicare costs have dropped significantly in the past year: "Historically, nearly 20 percent of Medicare patients have been readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of being discharged… The Affordable Care Act included, among other remedies, a modest penalty for hospitals with high readmission rates." (August 24th, 2011). 

The problem here is that re-admissions are usually medically necessary. According to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, only one out of ten hospital re-admissions were preventable. Hospitals are thus encouraged to deny hospital stays to those who need it, something they've already started. According to Case Management Monthly, hospital social workers have noticed this disturbing trend accelerate: "Several case managers have recently received readmission denial letters...they are surprised because the readmissions in question were actually appropriate and medically necessary." (October 1st, 2010).  

Cost saving ideas like these are at the heart of Obama's health care plan - which included massive cuts to Medicare - and further cuts to Medicare can be expected in his Super Congress. Even if the bi-partisan Super Congress is unable to agree to make massive cuts to social programs, cuts to Medicare will be automatically "triggered.” Obama tells us not to worry because the triggered Medicare cuts will affect only providers - hospitals and doctors - not patients, as if the two could be so easily separated. The above example of denied hospital re-admissions is also a case where providers were targeted for cuts but patients were the most affected. 

Another way that politicians are saving health care money is by slashing Medicaid, the shared federal-state health care program that serves low-income populations. The states' budget crises are quickly debilitating this already under-funded program, reducing availability and quality of health care for those low income people who qualify for the program. USA Today reports: "With a shortage of doctors...[ Medicaid] patients have little choice but to use hospital emergency rooms for more routine care." (July 5th, 2011).

Higher income workers across the country are also seeing their health care rapidly deteriorate. The shoddy health insurance that includes high deductibles and co-pays are standard to most non-union workers who've suffered under this pseudo insurance for years. But even these plans are being shelved.  Two studies recently show that employers plan to quit offering health care plans altogether: a survey by Towers Watson showed that one out of ten companies plan to eliminate health care coverage by 2014; while a different study by the McKinsey Company showed that, by 2014, 30 percent of companies will drop their health coverage for workers. Much of this is due again to, Obama's Affordable Health Care act: companies were encouraged and given an excuse to drop their health care coverage because everyone would be mandated to buy their own shoddy coverage. Politicians recognized that high health care costs were hurting corporate profits, and they were determined to do something about it. 

For those companies with a unionized workforce, Obama's health care plan took special aim, taxing companies extra that offered so-called Cadillac insurance - coverage that was actually quality health insurance. But no more. This Cadillac tax doesn't kick in till 2018, but employers are working now to make their health care plans skinny enough to avoid the tax; unions everywhere are being forced to make major concessions in the realm of health care, paying higher monthly premiums, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs. 

Another trend in the attack on health care for employees involves the implementation of Health Engagement Models (sometimes called Health Promotion Model). This super-invasive insurance plan forces all workers to undergo a health "assessment,” and based on the results (weight, blood pressure, etc.) and health habits, workers will be forced to follow recommendations of a health "coach.” Not following the coach's orders will result in monthly fines, as will refusing assessments or continuing to smoke or other bad habits. Plans like this are becoming popular among corporate leaders since they openly discriminate against workers who are overweight, or are older, or who smoke, and thus drive down the cost of health care of the employer. This form of plan combined with the above higher costs are quickly turning the once-quality health insurance of union workers into its opposite. 

The above trends in health care are not likely to be reversed anytime soon. Some union leaders are arguing for these concessions using outworn logic, assuming that the economic crisis will soon be over, enabling unions to again demand better wages and benefits. No respected mainstream economist believes this. The current recession is expected to be longer and deeper than any since the Great Depression. Labor unions need to adjust their expectations to the facts and revise their tactics based on the changing economic landscape. 

This also applies to working people in general, who cannot simply wait for jobs to be created or wages and benefits to regain their past value. Health care is a key component to a worker’s standard of living, and it is now unreasonable to expect any progressive health care reform from the Democrats or Republicans. The above policies have not improved health care, though they have decreased the cost of health care for corporations and governments, since patients are paying more for fewer services. The above policies have also not increased the number of workers with health insurance. In fact, the number of people without health care continues to grow every year, the most recent figure stands at over 52 million!  Obama's plan to force people to buy crappy insurance they couldn't afford to actually use - if the law survives the Supreme Court - will do nothing of substance to help.

The above health care policies are the natural result of a health care system based on the principles of private profit.  Corporate profits demand that companies provide the least amount of health care services at a minimal cost. From this vantage point, health care is a commodity that is bought by those who can afford it, instead of it being the human right of every person, as the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts. Europe has already proved that a nationwide, single payer system is vastly superior when it comes to quality, cost, availability, and results. 

The single payer system did not come into existence from the benevolence of kind governments, but from the demands of people in the street. Organized workers must fight to maintain their benefits; unorganized workers must organize to fight for better insurance; and older workers/retirees must fight to maintain and expand Medicare. The logical end to such struggles would be to demand a Medicare For All system, financed by taxing the wealthy and corporations."  

The Economy: Bill Bonner, “The Storm is Over…”

“The Storm is Over…”
by Bill Bonner

“Irene was not so bad. She knocked down a few trees, flooded a few basements. But, in the end, she was a good girl who left quietly when her time came. Traders, players, speculators and mid-night ramblers drifted back into Manhattan as soon as they could clear the fallen trees. They must have felt they had been spared for some great purpose. They must have looked to the heavens as clouds parted and rays of golden sunlight struck their uplifted faced. Whatever got into them, they rushed to the stock exchange and bought US stocks! The Dow rose 254 points. If you believe the stock market, the storm is over…all is well…

But US GDP grew at only a 1% rate last quarter. That is a small number. Don’t look too carefully or it will disappear altogether. If you deflate the latest ‘growth’ number by the inflation rate published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (actual year-to-year CPI-U is 3.6%) you get negative real growth. Recession, in other words. And then, you have to wonder. Suppose you were to adjust that number for population? US population is growing at something just under a 1% rate. What you would see is that the average American is getting poorer (his share of GDP) at about 3% or 4% per year. And then you are able to make sense of a lot of the other economic information that comes your way.

For example, a report out yesterday tells us that the personal savings rate in America keeps edging up — just as you’d expect. From next to zero, it has moved up over 5%. Households continue to cut back on spending…and increase savings. In the last quarter, they paid down $50 billion of debt. A drop in the bucket…but at least it was the right bucket. The Wall Street Journal: "In a marked shift from their borrow-and-spend behavior during the boom, US households are now by and large prioritizing saving and debt reduction. On Monday, the Commerce Department is to release July figures likely to show the personal saving rate, or proportion of after-tax monthly income unspent, in the 5% to 5.5% range…"

We also learned that gasoline use is at a 9-year low. Labor Day weekend is less than a week away. But this year, forecasters believe more Americans are going to stay home. They can’t afford the cost of filling up the tank for a long road trip. We hope this is true. We’re driving up to New York from Baltimore to attend a wedding. We don’t want to get stuck in a lot of traffic. But it is sad to think that people can’t afford to visit friends and relatives because they don’t have the cash to pay for gasoline. Oh, for the good old days! We remember buying gasoline for 25 cents a gallon back in the early ’70s.

Sigh…but that was before Richard Nixon came up with the funny dollar we have today. Let’s see…suppose Nixon had done the right thing? Suppose he had honored America’s commitment to settle her debts in gold? There would have been Hell to pay in the mid-’70s…but isn’t it better to pay Hell sooner rather than later? After all, the entire amount of foreign claims against the dollar at the time was something on the order of $50 billion. Now, it is around $4 trillion. Maybe more.

So, just for fun…let’s imagine what would have happened. Of course, there would have been this aforementioned period of wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then? And then, US producers would have had to get busy making and exporting products…while consumers would have been forced to curtail their reckless spending. America’s trade deficit would have remained under control…and the US would still have jobs in manufacturing. And it wouldn’t have debt equal to 370% of GDP.

But how much would people pay for a gallon of gasoline? Well, let’s see…let’s assume that gold has done a fair job as real money, of holding its purchasing power steady. Back in the early ’70s you could have bought 160 gallons of gas with a single ounce of gold. And today? At $1,800 an ounce, and gasoline at $4, you can buy 450 gallons. It’s as if the price of gasoline had fallen to about 10 cents a gallon! Hmmm….go figure. Either gasoline is too cheap. Or gold is too expensive. If we were a trader we’d short the latter and go long on the former. And since we’re always just guessing, we’ll take a guess as to what this means…

Gasoline is weak because the economy is fundamentally weak. Gold is high because Richard Nixon destroyed the integrity of the dollar, the US economy, and the world’s monetary system. Each of these trends will have to play itself out. In the meantime, gasoline…and/or gold…may need a little adjustment. And the storm continues…

At least the feds aren’t cutting back. The private sector spent itself silly in the ’00s. Now it’s the feds’ turn. With all the talk of ‘cuts’ and ‘budget reduction’ you might have the idea that the feds are putting the same screws to their budgets as everyone else. You might have thought, too, that much of recent government spending was temporary ‘stimulus’ spending, intended to kick the US economy in the derriere, in order to get it moving faster. That spending might have been expected to taper off as the emergency passed. If you thought that you would be as dumb as a voter. The 2011 budget is on target to hit an all-time high of $3.6 trillion, more than $100 billion up from last year. Total outlays are increasing at a breathtaking pace — up by a third in just four years. And now that the debt ceiling has been cracked…the sky’s the limit. Whee!”

Monday, August 29, 2011

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us.
 Click image for larger size.
In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.’

"Stop Waiting for Permission: Do What You've Been Resisting"

 "Stop Waiting for Permission: 
Do What You've Been Resisting"
by Robert Pagliarini

“Whose permission do you need? Really, it's not a trick question. Who needs to give you the nod of approval before you can start a business, start dating after a bitter divorce, or write the book you've been talking about for the past nine years? Whose approval are you desperately seeking? Your spouse, a boss, friend, or expert in your field? Unless you're six years old, you don't need anyone's permission to create a better, fuller, richer life for yourself. Of course, it doesn't always feel that way. Someone has to tell you you're good enough and smart enough, right?

Well, no actually. We cling to the (irrational) belief that we require approval before we can achieve because it's safe. It gives you a fabulous excuse. You can tell others, and more importantly, yourself, that it's out of your hands. It can help you sleep because it gives you the illusion that you're not in control. And if you're not in control, it's not your fault. But if you want to do more than sleep well and want to start living well, you need to make a decision. Are you going to put your success and happiness in your hands or someone else's?

This message hit home for me last week. I presented to a roomful of actors and artists at a Screen Actors Guild event. Talk about an industry built on the need for approval. If you're an actor, you need a casting director to tell you you're good enough. If you're a musician, you need a record label to give you their seal of approval. And if you're a writer, you need an agent or publisher to recognize your genius. This is true for all actors, musicians, and writers . . . except those that have decided they don't need to wait for anyone to tell them their art is worthy. These are the artists that don't wait, they create. The ones such as Zak Ambrose, Craig Benzine, Christina Perri, Oren Peli, or "Born this Way"Maria.

Not an artist? Not a problem. It doesn't matter what you do for a living. The freedom that comes from discovering you don't need anyone's permission is yours for the taking. But how can you break free from this destructive and limiting belief? Get conscious. It's time to name names. List a goal or aspiration and write down next to it all of the people for whom you are secretly waiting approval. If you're having trouble, ask yourself this: who needs to tell me that I am old enough, young enough, experienced enough, smart enough, attractive enough, thin enough, funny enough, or creative enough? Maybe you've been waiting to get a boyfriend before you travel across Europe. Why can't you go alone? Whose permission are you seeking? What about dropping your current job and switching to a career that inspires you?

There are two truths. The first is that nobody will ever give you permission. The second is that you don't need anyone's permission. Success doesn't come to those who wait for it. Success doesn't even come to those who ask for it. Success comes to those who fight off the naysayers and push forward without a permission slip.

It can be incredibly scary (and life changing) once you realize it's up to you. Regardless of the story you sell yourself, it always has been up to you, and it always will be. What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and decided you didn't need anyone to give you permission? What's the first thing you would start? Really, it's not a trick question."
Are you ready to create more money, time, energy, and passion in your life? Learn how to live your best life now with these free resources:

Blaise Pascal, "What The World Feels..."

"Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world feels this and does so; for the world is often a good judge.”
- Blaise Pascal

"Hopi Native American Prophecy"

The Daily "Near You?"

Três De Maio, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, “Morning Stars”

“Morning Stars”
by Chet Raymo

“For some years this William Blake watercolor hung in my living room, blown up photographically to enormous size (that was back in my darkroom days). An illustration from The Book of Job: "When the morning stars sang together..." The original watercolor is small, not a lot larger than what you will get if you click on the image here...

Click image for larger size.

That's Job and his family at the bottom, enclosed by the thickest clouds, representing the flesh. Under the Lord's left arm is the Moon goddess Diana, the heart or feeling, delicately holding the passions in check. Under his right arm is the Sun god Apollo, the intellect, pushing back clouds of ignorance. Above the thinnest wisps of cloud, a choir of singing angels, representing the imagination. Here, then, is Blake's vision of fourfold human nature, as imagined in his mystic dreams, and which Job presumably encountered in the whirlwind. Binding all together is the Divine Imagination.

When I was young I took this image as a guiding icon, a promise to myself to keep flesh, intellect, heart and imagination in balance, and to always aspire to the stars. At some point, early in the fuss of marriage and family, the big photographic reproduction of Blake's watercolor got shifted to the attic, where presumably it still resides amid dust and cobwebs and the discarded detritus of a lifetime.

Has my understanding of the human self changed in the forty intervening years? I have more respect for the flesh now than then. I cannot think of the unceasing activity of the DNA in every cell of my body without esteeming those trillions of tiny whirlwinds. I am less confident than in my idealist youth that Apollo can hold back the clouds of unknowing and that Diana can keep human passions in check. But I still choose optimism. That at least has remained constant since this, one of Blake's most optimistic images, hung on my wall.

Blake roiled between optimism and pessimism, shaken by his visions (oh, the mystery of that unquiet mind), steadied by his art (he died with a pencil in his hand), and bouyed by his beloved wife Catherine (imagine being married to such a soul on fire?).”

"The Biggest Questions"

"The Biggest Questions"
 Compilation by CP

"When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? 'The remembrance of a guest that tarries but a day.'”
- Blaise Pascal

"All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there. Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison for drunks. I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home."
- Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, "The Tavern" (Excerpt)

"What's the Significance of Life? Who Are We?"

"What's the significance of life? Who are we? Is human life just a dream, from which we never really awake, as some great thinkers claim? Are we submerged by our feelings, by our loves and hates, by our ideas of good, bad, beautiful, awful? Are we incapable of knowing beyond those ideas and feelings? Listen to Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad:

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…"
- William Shakespeare, "The Tempest"

"A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea."
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Is the reality we know a reality imposed to us by nature? Is the reality and the meaning of life a creation of men, such as music, or love or colors (science tells us that there isn't such things as music, harmony or colors in the physic world. Just traveling molecules: "There is not, external to us, hot or cold, but only different velocities of molecules; there aren’t sounds, callings, harmonies, but just variations in the pressure of the air; there aren’t colors, or light, just electro-magnetic waves," said H. Von Foerster.

Are we - and all living beings - just "survival machines, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes," as Richard Dawkins states? Are we incapable of knowing beyond the frames imposed to us by nature? Is there any significance for life in a Universe of billions of stars that ignore us? Is there any significance for life in an Universe whose dimensions and nature overcome our understanding?

Love gives meaning to our lives – as do friendship, or art, or faith in God. These are factors of true happiness, of inner peace, of feelings of harmony, allowing meaning to our existence. But there is the other side. There is the cruelty of life, the pain, the evil, not to talk of death. They are the hidden tigers, ambushed and ready to attack the imprudent, to use an image present in the Buddhist Scriptures. It is between these pendulums- the positive, the one that gives happiness and meaning, and the negative- that our lives are lived. And when we meditate about all that, we arrive at a diverse and disagreeing set of thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life."

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates
Questions, questions... Answers? First you have to know what questions to ask...

"Global Warming Caused by Cosmic Rays and the Sun - Not Humans"

"Global Warming Caused by Cosmic Rays
and the Sun - Not Humans"
by Lawrence Solomon

"New, convincing evidence indicates global warming is caused by cosmic rays and the sun - not humans. The science is now all-but-settled on global warming, convincing new evidence demonstrates, but Al Gore, the IPCC and other global warming doomsayers won't be celebrating. The new findings point to cosmic rays and the sun - not human activities - as the dominant controller of climate on Earth.

The research, published with little fanfare this week in the prestigious journal "Nature," comes from über-prestigious CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, one of the world's largest centres for scientific research involving 60 countries and 8,000 scientists at more than 600 universities and national laboratories. CERN is the organization that invented the World Wide Web, that built the multi-billion dollar Large Hadron Collider, and that has now built a pristinely clean stainless steel chamber that precisely recreated the Earth's atmosphere. In this chamber, 63 CERN scientists from 17 European and American institutes have done what global warming doomsayers said could never be done - demonstrate that cosmic rays promote the formation of molecules that in Earth's atmosphere can grow and seed clouds, the cloudier and thus cooler it will be. Because the sun's magnetic field controls how many cosmic rays reach Earth's atmosphere (the stronger the sun's magnetic field, the more it shields Earth from incoming cosmic rays from space), the sun determines the temperature on Earth.

The hypothesis that cosmic rays and the sun hold the key to the global warming debate has been Enemy No. 1 to the global warming establishment ever since it was first proposed by two scientists from the Danish Space Research Institute, at a 1996 scientific conference in the U.K. Within one day, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bert Bolin, denounced the theory, saying, "I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naive and irresponsible." He then set about discrediting the theory, any journalist that gave the theory credence, and most of all the Danes presenting the theory - they soon found themselves vilified, marginalized and starved of funding, despite their impeccable scientific credentials.

The mobilization to rally the press against the Danes worked brilliantly, with one notable exception. Nigel Calder, a former editor of "The New Scientist" who attended that 1996 conference, would not be cowed. Himself a physicist, Mr. Calder became convinced of the merits of the argument and a year later, following a lecture he gave at a CERN conference, so too did Jasper Kirkby, a CERN scientist in attendance. Mr. Kirkby then convinced the CERN bureaucracy of the theory's importance and developed a plan to create a cloud chamber - he called it CLOUD, for "Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets." But Mr. Kirkby made the same tactical error that the Danes had - not realizing how politicized the global warming issue was, he candidly shared his views with the scientific community. "The theory will probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole of the increase in the Earth's temperature that we have seen in the last century," Mr. Kirkby told the scientific press in 1998, explaining that global warming may be part of a natural cycle in the Earth's temperature.

The global warming establishment sprang into action, pressured the Western governments that control CERN, and almost immediately succeeded in suspending CLOUD. It took Mr. Kirkby almost a decade of negotiation with his superiors, and who knows how many compromises and unspoken commitments, to convince the CERN bureaucracy to allow the project to proceed. And years more to create the cloud chamber and convincingly validate the Danes' groundbreaking theory. Yet this spectacular success will be largely unrecognized by the general public for years - this column will be the first that most readers have heard of it - because CERN remains too afraid of offending its government masters to admit its success. Weeks ago, CERN formerly decided to muzzle Mr. Kirby and other members of his team to avoid "the highly political arena of the climate change debate," telling them "to present the results clearly but not interpret them" and to downplay the results by "making clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters." The CERN study and press release is written in bureaucratese and the version of Mr. Kirkby's study that appears in the print edition of Nature censored the most eye-popping graph - only those who know where to look in an online supplement will see the striking potency of cosmic rays in creating the conditions for seeding clouds. Here is the striking graph that the journal "Nature" withheld from its print edition:

Click image for larger size.

CERN, and the Danes, have in all likelihood found the path to the Holy Grail of climate science. But the religion of climate science won't yet permit a celebration of the find."

Santino “Sonny” Corleone, "Your Country..."

“Your country ain't your blood. Remember that.”

- Santino “Sonny” Corleone

"How We Really Should Be So Lucky"

"How They Prefer Keeping You Misinformed"

“It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.”

- Winston Churchill, referring to the Soviet Union’s foreign policy.

The Economy: "Welcome To Our Imperfect World"

"Welcome To Our Imperfect World"
By Decline of the Empire

“I was struck by an exchange between the Business Insider's Henry Blodget and fund manager Mark Dow of Pharo Management (video below). Dow is a former staff economist at the IMF. I transcribed the exchange. The interesting part begins at the 2:27 mark.
Mark Dow: The point is that [interest on excess reserves] an instrument of monetary policy. The Fed is not giving away money to the banks because they want to help their buddies. The banks would much rather be lending this money out, but there's no one to lend it to. And the Fed has said we need to control the Fed Funds rate more than anything else, it's a Public Good, if you want to look at it that way, just like bailing out the banks, as immoral as it was, it was necessary so the collateral damage was minimized, so the dry cleaner in Cedar Rapids could make payroll because he happened to deposit at a bank that was on-lend to Citigroup, or whatever. Right? Unfortunately, that's the perverse incentives that ripple through the system...
Henry Blodget: Every time I talk to you, you make such a persuasive case that there was just no choice, we had to bail out Wall Street and so forth, and yet you step back from this, Wall Street coined money for 20 years leading right up to the crisis. Everything fell apart, all the banks were bailed out, some of the senior managements are still in place, all the equity is now recovered, we protected bondholders 100 cents on the dollar. I just, I don't understand why it is that it has to be that the laws of capitalism that affect the rest of the country and world, simply do not apply to Wall Street, because what you're saying, we just can't or we would croak.
Mark Dow: In this particular case, for sure we would have gone down. Unfortunately, in a perfect world the bondholders would have taken a haircut. In a perfect world, well, equity didn't go to zero in the case of most of these banks, but most of these guys, they might have gotten bailed out, but they lost a lot of money, they lost less than they should have. They should have lost everything. But had they lost everything, the collateral damage would have been massive. The little guy who didn't do anything wrong is still upset because he thinks that bankers made money somehow.
Henry Blodget: They did!
Mark Dow: No, they didn't. If you look at any of these guys, their net worth got crushed. They owned a lot of stock in their companies, right? Now, the bondholders, they got made whole, but the people running these companies were not bondholders, right? They were equity holders. They got hit and they got hit seriously. Now, they should have been wiped out, right? No arguments there. But unfortunately, that couldn't be done without wiping out the average guy, who didn't do anything wrong.
Henry Blodget: Fair enough.

This is a remarkable exchange, but unfortunately we don't hear many like it anymore. Everyone seems to have moved on, and that's the problem. When Paulson (and Geithner, etc.) were extorting Congress for bail out money to keep Wall Street breathing, I was dead set against it. My attitude could have been summed up in two words: Screw 'em! At the time, in the fall of 2008, I was not aware of the "perverse incentives" that rippled through the system, I was not aware that the dry cleaner in Cedar Rapids might not be able to make payroll because his deposits were on loan to Citigroup. If I had known, I would have supported a temporary bailout to stabilize the financial system, to be followed by serious measures to wipe out those who crashed it. And the problem is this: that never happened. When I read that Bank of America is in trouble, I just laugh. When I hear that Warren Buffoon has put five billion dollars into Bank of America, and will make lots of money from that investment, I just laugh. Has nobody gotten the news? Bank of America is too big to fail.
More than some other large banks, Bank of America’s fate is also heavily intertwined with that of consumers. It services one in five home loans, and with 5,700 branches assembled through decades of mergers, it counts 58 million customers. Bank of America’s capital position is much stronger than it was going into the financial crisis — it held $218 billion at the end of the second quarter by one key measure, but was still behind peers like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Buffoon's investment is as safe as houses used to be. The Sage of Omaha loves this country! What a deal, invest 5 billion dollars and get a 100% guaranteed return your money. He made one billion the first day. It's not as if BofA stock is going to fall to zero and the bank is going to go belly-up. It's not as if BofA operates under the standard rules of capitalism.

It was the lack of a follow-up to the financial crisis that demonstrated the utter corruption of governance in the United States. Justice was not served, no bankers went to jail or got wiped out after the fact. The system was not purged of perverse incentives. Wall Street's ability to disrupt the life of the "little guy" was not removed. As Henry notes, bondholders were payed 100 cents on the dollar, bank management teams are in many cases still in place, and are still earning those outrageous bonuses.

The "little guy" [You!- CP] may not have had a clear understanding of his little-guy-ness until after this crisis. Now it is crystal clear who the little guys are, and who the Big Guys are. Mark Dow refers to what might have happened in a perfect world. He refers to the necessity of bailing out the banks, as immoral as that was. Welcome to our Imperfect World."