Monday, April 30, 2012

"A Look to the Heavens"

"M78 isn't really hiding in planet Earth's night sky. About 1,600 light-years away and nestled in the nebula rich constellation Orion, the large, bright, reflection nebula is well-known to telescopic skygazers. But this gorgeous image of M78 was selected as the winner of the Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition. Held by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the competition challenged amateur astronomers to process data from ESO's astronomical archive in search of cosmic gems.
 Click image for larger size.
The winning entry shows off amazing details within bluish M78 (center) embraced in dark, dusty clouds, along with a smaller reflection nebula in the region, NGC 2071 (top). Yellowish and even more compact, the recently discovered, variable McNeil's Nebula is prominent in the scene below and right of center. Based on data from ESO's WFI camera and 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, this image spans just over 0.5 degrees on the sky. That corresponds to 15 light-years at the estimated distance of M78.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. Thanks for stopping by.

"On A Long Enough Timeline..."

"On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
- "Tyler Durden", "Fight Club"

Chet Raymo, "Free As A Bird"

"Free As A Bird"
by Chet Raymo

"All afternoon I have been watching a pair of hummingbirds play about our porch. They live somewhere nearby, though I haven't found their nest. They are attracted to our hummingbird feeder, which we keep full of sugar water. What perfect little machines they are! No other bird can perform their tricks of flight - flying backwards, hovering in place. Zip. Zip. From perch to perch in a blur of iridescence. If you want a symbol of freedom, the hummingbird is it. Exuberant. Unpredictable. A streak of pure fun. It is the speed, of course, that gives the impression of perfect spontaneity. The bird can perform a dozen intricate maneuvers more quickly than I can turn my head.

Is the hummingbird's apparent freedom illusory, a biochemically determined response to stimuli from the environment? Or is the hummingbird's flight what it seems to be, willful and unpredictable? If I can answer that question, I will be learning as much about myself as about the hummingbird. So I watch. And I consider what I know of biochemistry. The hummingbird is awash in signals from its environment - visual, olfactory, auditory and tactile cues that it processes and responds to with lightning speed.

How does it do it? Proteins, mostly. Every cell of the hummingbird's body is a buzzing conversation of proteins, each protein a chain of hundreds of amino acids folded into a complex shape like a piece of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Shapes as various as the words of a human vocabulary. An odor molecule from a blossom, for example, binds to a protein receptor on a cell membrane of the hummingbird's olfactory organ - like a jigsaw-puzzle piece with its neighbor. This causes the receptor molecule to change that part of its shape that extends inside the cell. Another protein now binds with the new configuration of the receptor, and changes its own shape. And so on, in a sequence of shapeshifting and binding - called a signal-transduction cascade - until the hummingbird's brain "experiences" the odor.

Now appropriate signals must be sent from the brain to the body - ion flows established along neural axons, synapses activated. Wing muscles must respond to direct the hummingbird to the source of nourishment. Tens of thousands of proteins in a myriad of cells talk to each other, each protein genetically prefigured by the hummingbird's DNA to carry on its conversation in a particular part of the body. All of this happens continuously, and so quickly that to my eye the bird's movements are a blur.

There is much left to learn, but this much is clear: There is no ghost in the machine, no hummingbird pilot making moment by moment decisions out of the whiffy stuff of spirit. Every detail of the hummingbird's apparently willful flight is biochemistry. Between the hummingbird and myself there is a difference of complexity, but not of kind. If humans are the lords of terrestrial creation, it is because of the huge tangle of nerves that sits atop our spines.

So what does this mean about human freedom? If we are biochemical machines in interaction with our environments, in what sense can we be said to be free? What happens to "free will"? Perhaps the most satisfying place to look for free will is in what is sometimes called chaos theory. In sufficiently complex systems with many feedback loops - the global economy, the weather, the human nervous system - small perturbations can lead to unpredictable large-scale consequences, though every part of the system is individually deterministic. This has sometimes been called - somewhat facetiously - the butterfly effect: a butterfly flaps its wings in China and triggers a cascade of events that results in a snowstorm in Chicago. Chaos theory has taught us that determinism does not imply predictability. Of course, this is not what philosophers traditionally meant by free will, but it is indistinguishable from what philosophers traditionally meant by free will. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

I watch the hummingbirds at the feeder. Their hearts beat ten times faster than a human's. They have the highest metabolic rate of any animal, a dozen times higher than a pigeon, a hundred times higher than an elephant. Hummingbirds live at the edge of what is biologically possible, and it's that, the fierce intenseness of their aliveness, that makes them appear so exuberantly free. But there are no metaphysical pilots in these little flying machines. The machines are the pilots. You give me carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and a few billion years of evolution, and I'll give you a bird that burns like a luminous flame. The hummingbird's freedom was built into the universe from the first moment of creation."
Further Reading:

For a brilliant and provocative treatment of free will and determinism, read Daniel Dennett's "Freedom Evolves."

A superb book on how the mind makes itself is Gary Marcus's "The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought."

The always provocative Roger Penrose looks for free will in quantum uncertainty in his "The Emperor's New Mind". Not an easy read, and, in my view, case not proved.


"Just when we think we figured things out, the universe throws us a curveball. So, we have to improvise. We find happiness in unexpected places. We find ourselves back to the things that matter the most. The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it just has a way of making sure we wind up exactly where we belong."

- "Dr. Meredith Grey", "Grey's Anatomy"

“Humanity Will Never Have Truth Until Criminal 1% Arrested. Will YOU Demand It?”

“Humanity Will Never Have Truth Until Criminal 1% Arrested.
 Will YOU Demand It?”
by Carl Herman

The annual cost of US 1% “leadership” lies and obvious crimes is death to millions, harm to billions, and looting of trillions of the 99%’s wealth.

The 1% lie about wars, then do exactly what war law exists to prevent: offensive and illegal Wars of Aggression. They lie year after year as the wars kill millions and cost Americans trillions of their dollars.

The 1% lie about economics, banking, stock market “trading,” and cartel looting while suppressing breakthroughs that would tremendously benefit 100% of Earth’s inhabitants. This costs Americans trillions every year.

The 1% corporate media lie by omission, commission, and distraction, as Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges explains in this 5-minute video:

Arrests end the lies and crimes, murders, damages, and looting. The arrests are for obvious leaders in “emperor has no clothes” obvious crimes.

Will you demand the arrests? Will you ask law and military enforcement to do the job they want to do, exist to do, and you’re paying them to do? The alternative is what history shows us: ongoing lies, wars, looting.

What will you think? What will you say? What will you do?

My offer to help the 1% criminals for Truth & Reconciliation stands. I will advocate their pensioned and peaceful “retirement” in exchange for peaceful surrender and return of the 99%’s stolen assets. I invite their “Scrooge conversions” to reclaim their hearts and love. Love. It’s what 99% of the minions serving the 1% want, and will have with the intellectual integrity and moral courage to stand with 100% of Earth’s inhabitants to have.

Will YOU demand love, truth, and justice? This is important, why you’re here, and you know it."

"How It Really Is"


  “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."

    - Frederic Bastiat

"The WSJ: There Are No Civil Liberties. Suck It America"

 "The WSJ: There Are No Civil Liberties. Suck It America"
by Karl Denninger

"Why am I not surprised reading something like this in the WSJ?

    "The tea party movement has generally been constructive, but every so often it runs off the road. A case in point is its emerging condominium with the anti-antiterror left to block terrorist detentions. This strange alliance has developed in response to one of Congress's rare bipartisan achievements—the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That bill affirmed the long-standing distinction between civilian justice and the rules of war by letting the President detain terrorists (including U.S. citizens) captured anywhere and question them as long as necessary. A President can decide to try them in either military or civilian courts, and the right of habeas corpus to challenge detention in court, established by the Supreme Court's 2004 Hamdi decision, is unchanged. This modest law has sprouted a burst of political delusion in several states and Congress. A tea party outfit called the Tenth Amendment Center calls the law "an unconstitutional and dangerous federal power grab"—though the statute merely codifies existing practice under Presidents Bush and Obama. In the wilder tea party precincts, the talk is that in a second term Mr. Obama might round people up, a la Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor."

Well that isn't because we've done it before, is it? Actually, it is.  We did do it before.  And not only did we not reverse that decision and apologize until far too late to matter, we didn't even make people whole then.

    "The paranoia is showing up in state legislatures, and this month Virginia became the first to forbid state employees from "assisting" the feds "in the conduct of the investigation, prosecution, or detention of any citizen" under the provisions of the NDAA. This means that as of July 1 in Richmond a state trooper could not arrest the likes of the late Virginia cleric-turned-terrorist-recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki because he might end up in a military brig. A U.S. missile targeted and killed Awlaki in Yemen on Presidential orders, but Virginia police couldn't detain him."

You might first try finding probable cause to arrest him before shooting him with a missile. We do still have that, right?

    "The law now on the books carries a presumption of military detention for suspected terrorists because the top priority is to find out what they know. War fighters need to learn what a terrorist has been plotting, where he has been, who his co-conspirators are, and what else is planned. The priority in civilian court is assessing guilt and punishment, which can come later."

Who's a suspected terrorist?  Anyone the government says is?  And what check and balance is on that?  None, right?  Never mind that it's damn hard to appeal when you're dead.

    "In 1942, a military court ordered the execution of six Nazis, including an American citizen, who were captured after having come ashore from submarines off the U.S. East Coast. Yet some tea partiers want to let today's version of infiltrating Nazis get the same rights as burglars."

On the contrary; we would like those six arrested, tried, and then executed. See, that's the point.  First you arrest them, then you try them, and only after finding them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt do you execute them. The ACLU and Tea Party, along with Libertarians, are not uninformed about the faux "war on terror."  There is in fact no such war. War is a declared thing.  Congress has not declared war.  We are therefore not at war.  QED.

There's a reason the Constitution has the provisions it has regarding war, regarding habeus corups, regarding civil rights.  There's a reason we originally had 10 Amendments to the Constitution passed with it; they're an inviolate part of the whole.  If the WSJ (or anyone else) believe that the Constitution needs to be "updated" to deal with a "more modern" warfare paradigm, then let's see an attempt to amend it.  Propose the amendment, pass it in the Congress, ratify it in the States. That's the right way to do it.  It's hard to do.  It's hard on purpose; it's supposed to be hard, because the Constitution should not be modified for frivolous or transient cause.

I argue that there are damn few terrorists interested in getting into the United States and doing anything, well, terrible.  That's the point of terrorism, right - to terrorize. Well, where are they? I hear all the time that the TSA is "making us safer."  Ok, where the are the felony arrests for attempts to blow up planes or bring guns on board for nefarious purpose?  I haven't seen any in the papers.  But those are civilian felonies and if they happen they are tried in civilian courts.  We know the TSA people can be bribed (because they've been caught doing it for drugs) and we know they're not honest (because they've been caught stealing things) so there's no question that this alleged "security" is full of holes like swiss cheese.

If all these e-vile terrorists wanting to kill us, literally by the thousands, were real we'd have lists of arrests in the papers every morning and more than a few would have succeeded by now. There haven't been any. Really, I mean it. There haven't been any, from a statistical point of view. That's good, by the way, not bad. Yeah, there's two instances of Mr. Bad Guy that are out there in the more than a decade since 9/11 - Mr. Shoe-bomber and Mr. Ball-bomber, both of which failed and both of which, it appears, the government knew about and may have allowed on board with known-defective devices.

But here's the point: Both originated outside the United States. Where is the domestic threat? Yes, we've had a couple of nutballs yell "Allah Akbar!" as they start shooting people, including one at a military base. But our government didn't call that terrorism or the alleged perpetrators terrorists, did they? Why not? I have a greater probability of being hit by lightning going to the mailbox this afternoon - and it's a beautiful blue-sky day here - than being shot or blown up by a terrorist.  I'm singularly unconcerned about it.  On the list of 99 things I worry that may some day kill me, terrorism is in about 5,462nd place.

I wish I could say the same thing about my "faith" in our government and due process of law.  But I can't. The simple fact of the matter is that the 4th Amendment isn't a very rigorous standard.  Obtaining a warrant showing probable cause to believe that someone is going to do something evil and has the means and motive to do so is pretty easy.  In fact it's an extremely low standard, below that of civil evidence for a lawsuit by a country mile.  You simply need to show reason to believe under a reasonable man's standard, not proof.  The warrant let's you obtain your evidence. Is this an onerous requirement?  No, it's not.  In fact it's the only means to prevent the jackbooted abuses that we served up upon those in WWII that happened to have eyes that slanted the wrong way, despite them being American citizens and having absolutely no evidence of having ever done anything to harm this nation or her people.

I can make this nation almost completely-free of gun crime, for example, in one single day.  You simply need to make me dictator.  Once you do I'll go door to door, stop people on the street and search anywhere I want.  If you have a firearm I will confiscate it and then shoot you with it.  To avoid this you may turn in your guns before I get to you.  I need no probable cause for any such search nor to murder you.  I simply need to find a gun anywhere you could conceivably use it. The gun crime rate would go to near zero in an afternoon. Of course what I'd be doing is basically what Hitler did.  And others before and since. But I promise you, if you made me dictator I wouldn't do those evil things Adolph did - I'd just make society "safer."

You trust me, right?

I hope not. But that is exactly what the Journal thinks we should do. My response fits in one word: No.”

"Interesting Facts About the Student Loan Debt Bubble"

"Interesting Facts About the Student Loan Debt Bubble"
by Bill Bonner

"Nothing much happened last week. Except that Ben Bernanke told investors that the fix was in…and the stock market went up. The chief of America’s central bank told the world that he was prepared for more QE whenever it was needed. When will it be needed? When the stock market goes down! So, why not? Why not buy stocks? What can you lose? If they go up, you keep the gains. If they go down…ol’ Benny will be there with wads of cash to buck them up. Cash…cash…cash… How much do you need? A million? A billion? A trillion? Hey, the sky’s the limit. Bernanke is ready. As much as you need…when you need it. After so many years of fixes (it’s been 5 years since the subprime crisis began) we’re getting to know how the fixes work.

Let’s start with the money. When a fix is needed, the feds come up with money. But everyone knows the feds are broke. So where does the money come from? “Out of thin air,” was an expression used by John Maynard Keynes. But how could that be? How can you get cash…money…out of nowhere? And what kind of money could it be…if you could get it at no expense? It must be a “funny” money…a zombie money… It must be worthless, right? But it’s not. That’s the crazy thing…the Fed plucks this money out of the air…gives it to banks…and they can use it to pay for a pizza. Or an automobile. Or a sovereign bond.

The problem — especially now in Europe — is that the money that comes from nowhere goes nowhere. The ECB lent it to the banks. The banks lent it to the government. And pfhhht! It was back to where it came from — nowhere. Now, The Financial Times reports that the banks are down to their last few billion. Snniff. Sniffle. Poor bankers. They better save their last billions to pay bonuses. That’s what they’re thinking too. They’re not buying government bonds the way they used to. Trouble is, the governments of Spain, Italy and others need the money. So, they go to the European central bank and ask for more of that ‘nowhere money’: “You gotta give these banks more money so they can give us more money… Otherwise, we’re going to default…and you can say goodbye to Europe…”

Whether that would be good or bad, we don’t know… We’re still wondering where that money came from. Where, exactly, is nowhere? How could there be a place…like…nowhere? We mean, if it is nowhere…it can’t be somewhere. So there can’t be a place that is also nowhere. So, if money really does come from nowhere it is…like…really not there. Can someone help us with this? Lately, we’ve come to the conclusion that this whole thing is a scam. The money is a scam. The economics behind it is a scam. The way it is lent out…is also a scam. Let’s look again at where the ‘nowhere’ money goes…

In short, it is used by the insiders to scam the outsiders. Those who control the government scam those who don’t. It goes to zombie industries — finance, health, education and the military. In the news lately is the plight of the students. Everybody tells them they should go to college. But college is expensive. And since nobody has any money in America, they have to borrow. They end up with a worthless college degree and, on average, about $25,000 in debt. The scam takes place on several levels. The whole nation gets scammed into thinking that “education” is a good thing. 

Here’s a typical newspaper article, this one from The Wall Street Journal: “Education Slowdown Threatens US”. “Throughout American history,” the article begins, “almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents. That is no long true. When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two more years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz… But in 2010 they averaged only about 8 months more schooling than their parents.” The article goes on to tell us that college graduates have less trouble getting a job than those who only graduated from high school. But so what? Suppose everyone had a Ph.D. Would jobs suddenly appear for them? “The wealth of nations is no longer in resources. It’s no longer in physical capital. It’s in human capital,” says an expert quoted by the paper.

Elsewhere in the blahblahsphere, Larry Summers, former secretary of the Treasury, challenged Mitt Romney to present a budget plan, which among other things, included more “investment” in…yes…you guess it…education! But “investments” in education have been increasing for the last 40 years…and for the last 40 years…there has been not one penny of return.

So, let’s follow the money. The feds give students money…or give it to the universities directly. Either way, it ends up in the pockets of the education industry. Unemployment has gone up and down…with no relation to the supposed investments in education. Employees — including those with college degrees — have not earned a penny more in real hourly wages. And test scores show they don’t know anything more than they did, at far lower investment, 4 decades ago. Investments in education are losers. Why invest more? Because the money comes out of nowhere. It’s nowhere money. Might as well bailout the financial industry. And “invest” in healthcare too. But the nowhere money is not with no cost. It looks just like other money. And it buys the same things. So, the guy who has it is able to use it to take away resources from other people.

Follow the money. From the Fed to the feds…to the favored, no-return industries — health, education, finance and the military. The zombies get more money. The rest of the economy ends up with less. And now, much of the cost rests on the shoulders and backs of young people in the form of unpaid student loans, from MSNBC: "Here’s what we do know about student loan debt: it’s roughly $1 trillion in size, greater than either auto or credit-card debt and second only to mortgage debt in the US. Borrowers in their 30s today owe $28,500, on average. The debt burden has soared just as — and partly because — the recession hit, so younger graduates carrying the highest balances are hit with the double whammy of a weak job market (that still isn’t showing any sign of rapid improvement)." And this all comes as globalization and technological change have upended once-reliable career paths, wiped out many mid-level professional jobs and leave low-paying fields in health, food and beverage services, and retail as among the fastest growing job markets over the next decade.

Oh, and consider that student loan debt remains one of the most difficult types to forgive or discharge in bankruptcy, in part because the federal government (i.e. taxpayers) made or guaranteed 80 percent of all outstanding student loan debt as of last year. And finally, that once loans in deferral or forbearance are excluded, the delinquency rate on student loan debt was an estimated 27 percent as of the third quarter of 2011, according to a study by the New York Fed. Esquire magazine has another angle. Here’s a question for you. How come the feds give old people drugs — free…but when it comes to college education, it forces the young folks to borrow? Simple, the young don’t have as much voting power. They’re outsiders. Here’s what has happened to them.

Twenty-five years ago young Americans had a chance. In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation. This bleeding up of the national wealth is no accounting glitch, no anomalous negative bounce from the recent unemployment and mortgage crises, but rather the predictable outcome of thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human potential has been consistently growing, generating greater material wealth, more education, wider opportunities — a vast and glorious liberation of human potential. In all that time, everyone, even followers of the most corrupt or most evil of ideologies, believed they were working for a better tomorrow. Not now. The angel of progress has suddenly vanished from the scene. Or rather, the angel of progress has been sent away.

Nobody ever talks about generational conflict. Who wants to bring up that the old are eating the young at the dinner table? How are you going to mention that to your boss? If you’re a politician, how are you going to tell your donors? Even the Occupy Wall Street crowd, while rejecting the modes and rhetoric and institutional support of Boomer progressives, shied away from articulating the fundamental distinction that fills their spaces with crowds: young against old.

The gerontocracy begins at the top. The 111th Congress was the oldest since the end of the Second World War, and the average age of its members has been rising steadily since 1981. The graying of Congress has obvious political ramifications, although generalizations can be deceiving. The Republican representatives tend to be younger than the Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they represent the interests of the young. The youngest senators are Tea Party members, Mike Lee from Utah and Marco Rubio from Florida (both forty). Here’s Rubio: “Americans chose a free-enterprise system designed to provide a quality of opportunity, not compel a quality of results. And that is why this is the only place in the world where you can open up a business in the spare bedroom of your home.” He is speaking to people who own homes that have empty spare bedrooms. He will not or cannot understand that the spare bedrooms of America are filling up with returning adult children, like the estimated 85 percent of college graduates who returned to their childhood beds in 2010, toting along $25,250 of debt.

David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter, had the guts to acknowledge that the Tea Party’s combination of expensive entitlement programs and tax cuts is something entirely different from a traditional political program: “This isn’t conservatism: It’s a going-out-of-business sale for the Baby Boom generation.” The economic motive is growing ever more naked, and has nothing to do with any principle that could be articulated by Goldwater or Reagan, or indeed with any principle at all. The political imperative is to preserve the economic cloak of unreality that the Boomers have wrapped themselves in.

Democrats may not be actively hostile to the interests of young voters, but they are too scared and weak to speak up for them. So when the Boomers and swing voters scream for fiscal discipline and the hard decisions have to be made, youth is collateral damage. Medicare and Social Security were mostly untouched in Obama’s 2012 budget. But to show he was really serious about belt tightening, relatively cheap programs that help young people like the Adolescent Family Life Program and the Career Pathways Innovation Fund were killed. His intentions may be good — he may want to increase support for AmeriCorps — but the program shrunk last year. Three quarters of the applicants were turned away. He resisted Republican efforts to slash Pell grants by $845 per student, but then made other changes to the program that will save the government — or cost students, depending on your perspective — a projected $100 billion over ten years.

The youth vote still supports Obama, but in a chastened, conditional way. In hindsight, Obama’s 2008 campaign looks like an indulgent fantasy in which the major conflicts in life simply don’t exist. There may be no white America and no black America, no blue-state America and no red-state America, but one thing is clear: There is a young America and there is an old America, and they don’t form a community of interest. One takes from the other. The federal government spends $480 billion on Medicare and $68 billion on education. Prescription drugs: $62 billion. Head Start: $8 billion. Across the board, the money flows not to helping the young grow up, but helping the old die comfortably. According to a 2009 Brookings Institution study, “The United States spends 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children, measured on a per capita basis, with the ratio rising to 7 to 1 if looking just at the federal budget.”

The biggest boondoggle of all is Social Security. The management of entitlement programs, already weighted heavily in favor of the older population, has a very specific terminal point that coincides neatly with the Boomers’ deaths. The 2011 report by the Social Security trustees estimates that, under its current administration, the fund will run out in 2036, so there’s just enough to get the oldest Boomers to age ninety.

Only 58 percent of Boomers have more than $25,000 put aside for retirement, so the rest will either starve or the government will have to pay for them. But the government’s future ability to pay is decreasing rapidly precisely because the Boomers splurged so heavily during the Bush and Clinton years. Public debt per person in the United States currently stands at $33,777. George W. Bush inherited a public-debt-to-GDP ratio of 32.5 percent and brought it up to 54.1 percent during a period of economic growth. (The money borrowed from the future paid for massive tax cuts, with no serious reductions in domestic spending, two expensive wars, and a prescription-drug benefit added to Medicare.) Under Obama, the debt-to-GDP ratio has risen to 67.7 percent and is projected to rise to 74.2 percent this year.

This is no conspiracy; no nefarious backroom deal by political and corporate overlords. The impasse of the moment is, tragically, the result of the best aspects of the Boomers’ spirit. The native optimism that emerged out of the explosively creative postwar world led them to believe that growth would go on forever; that peace and prosperity were the natural state of things. Their good intentions seem like willful naiveté today, but the intentions were genuine. Clinton actually believed that globalization would export the First World rather than bring the Third World home; it did both. The prescription-drug benefit was the “compassion” in compassionate conservatism. All those tax cuts were intended to liberate opportunities, not destroy them.

Cynicism rises to fill the emptied space of exaggerated and failed hope. It’s all simple math. If you follow the money rather than the blather, it’s clear that the American system is a bipartisan fusion of economic models broken down along generational lines: unaffordable Greek-style socialism for the old, virulently purified capitalism for the young. Both political parties have agreed to this arrangement: The Boomers and older will be taken care of. Everybody younger will be on their own. The German philosopher Hermann Lotze wrote in the 1870s: “One of the most remarkable characteristics of human nature is, alongside so much selfishness in specific instances, the freedom from envy which the present displays toward the future.” It is exactly that envy toward the future that is new in our own time.

And we will not talk about any of it. We will keep mum. We will hold our tongues lest we seem ageist, lest we seem bitter, lest we seem out of touch, lest we seem pessimistic, lest we seem divisive.”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Large, dusty, spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this rich telescopic image. The field of view spans nearly 2 degrees, or about 4 times the width of the Full Moon, toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus. 
 Click image for larger size.
About 13 million light-years distant, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. But X-ray and infrared observations reveal even more high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. The other prominent galaxy in the field, NGC 4976, is an elliptical galaxy. Left of center, NGC 4976 is much farther away, at a distance of about 35 million light-years, and not physically associated with NGC 4945.”

Chet Raymo, “Whence Ourselves?”

“Whence Ourselves?”
by Chet Raymo

“My post of yesterday took me back to David S. Goodsell's "The Machinery of Life," and I found myself reading the book again. There is nothing I didn't already know, but it's worth reading again for the same reason one might read, say, Anna Karenina or Moby Dick several times in the course of a life. In fact, Goodsell's book would be a good candidate for the one science book I would recommend to someone stuck on a desert island.

Step by step he takes us through the molecular machinery shared by all life on Earth. Humans have a lot more in common with a bacterium, say, that we might be inclined to think. One of Goodsell's vivid illustrations shows three versions of the enzyme glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase - vital for the metabolism of sugar - from E. coli bacteria, spinach, and human. At first glance they look identical. Close inspection shows minor differences. Our shared family tree. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorous, hydrogen. Four nucleotides and twenty amino acids. Nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), proteins, lipids, polysaccharides. Rotors, pumps, motors, triggers, dams, channels, gates: Not just metaphors, but functional analogies. The Tinkertoy set that unites all life on Earth.

Many of us seem to believe that anything we can understand cannot be worth much, and therefore we resist the scientific understanding of self, and especially any understanding that evokes "machinery." But, as I wrote in "When God Is Gone," the ability to know is the measure of our human uniqueness, the one emergent quality that distinguishes us from other creatures. Understanding the machinery of life does not mean that we will ever encompass with our science the rich detail of an individual human life, or the infinitude of ways by which a human brain interacts with the world. Thousands of years ago Heraclitus said: "You could not discover the limits of soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form."

The mechanical metaphor for life does not so much reduce the marvelous to the mundane, as it elevates the mundane to the marvelous. "Mundane" comes from the Latin mundus, meaning "world." The more we understand the molecular machinery of life, the more truly marvelous the world becomes. Anyone who can read Goodsell's book - or even look at the illustrations - and not feel elevated is floating in a conceptual universe totally cut off from the place that gave us birth.”

Satire: "Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy"

"Obama’s Use of Complete Sentences Stirs Controversy"
Could Imperil Reelection Hopes, Experts Say
by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – "In the first term in office, President Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the previous eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say. New polls indicate that millions of Americans are put off by the President’s unorthodox verbal tic, which has Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opens his mouth. Mr. Obama’s decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements, as well as his insistence on the correct pronunciation of the word “nuclear,” has harmed his reelection hopes among millions of voters who find his unusual speaking style unfamiliar and bizarre.

According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, after eight years of George W. Bush many Americans find it “alienating” to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language. “Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement,” says Mr. Logsdon.  “If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist.” The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, on Election Day the public may find itself saying, “Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate – we get it, stop showing off.”

Elsewhere, consumers who believed that Nutella was nutritious have won a $3.05 million lawsuit, the highest award ever paid to morons."
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"Three Musts..."

"There are three musts that hold us back:
 I must do well.
 You must treat me well.
 And the world must be easy."

- Albert Ellis

"How It Really Is"

"Good Or Bad..."

"Good or bad, everything we do is our best choice at that moment."

William Glasser

“H.L. Mencken Was Right”

“H.L. Mencken Was Right”
by Jim Quinn

"H.L. Mencken was a renowned newspaper columnist for the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. His biting sarcasm seems to fit perfectly in today’s world. His acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses are as true today as they were then. I believe the reason his words hit home is because he was writing during the last Unraveling and Crisis periods in America. The similarities cannot be denied. There are no journalists of his stature working in the mainstream media today. His acerbic wit is nowhere to be found among the lightweight shills that parrot their corporate masters’ propaganda on a daily basis and unquestioningly report the fabrications spewed by our government. Mencken’s skepticism of all institutions is an unknown quality in the vapid world of present day journalism.

The Roaring Twenties of decadence, financial crisis caused by loose Fed monetary policies, stock market crash, Depression, colossal government redistribution of wealth, and ultimately a World War, all occurred during his prime writing years. I know people want to believe that the world only progresses, but they are wrong. The cycles of history reveal that people do not change, just the circumstances change. How Americans react to the undulations of history depends upon their age and generational position. We are currently in a Crisis period when practical, truth telling realists like Mencken are most useful and necessary.

Mencken captured the essence of American politics and a disconnected populace 80 years ago. Even though many people today feel the average American is less intelligent, more materialistic, and less informed than ever before, it was just as true in 1930 based on Mencken’s assessment: “The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

You can make your own judgment on the accuracy of his statement considering the last two gentlemen to occupy the White House. His appraisal of U.S. Senators and citizens in our so-called Democracy captures the spirit of the travesty that passes for leadership and civic responsibility in this country today. “Democracy gives the beatification of mediocrity a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth. The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world—that he is genuinely running things. Out of his maudlin herding after rogues and mountebacks there comes to him a sense of vast and mysterious power—which is what makes archbishops, police sergeants, the grand goblins of the Ku Klux and other such magnificoes happy. And out of it there comes, too, a conviction that he is somehow wise, that his views are taken seriously by his betters — which is what makes United States Senators, fortune tellers and Young Intellectuals happy. Finally, there comes out of it a glowing consciousness of a high duty triumphantly done which is what makes hangmen and husbands happy.”

People still read newspapers in the 1930s to acquire credible information about the economy, politics and economy. Today’s corporate owned rags aren’t fit to line a bird cage. The mainstream media is a platform for the lies of their corporate sponsors. Each TV network or newspaper spouts propaganda that supports the financial interests and ideology they are beholden to. Does anyone think they are obtaining the truth from Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh? Evidently the answer is yes. The upcoming presidential campaign will be a nightmare of endless negative advertisements created by Madison Avenue maggots and paid for by rich powerful men attempting to herd the mindless sheeple towards their ultimate slaughter. Whichever corporate controlled party can more successfully scare the masses into pulling their lever in the voting booth on November 6th will get the opportunity push the country closer to its ultimate collapse. This collapse was destined from the time of Mencken when the Federal Reserve was created by a small group of powerful bankers and their cronies in Congress. Fear has worked for 100 years in controlling the masses, as Mencken noted during his time: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

In the 1930s you needed to count on newspapers for the truth. The purpose of those who wield power is to keep the masses dumbed down and paranoid regarding terrorist threats and artificial enemies. By convincing the dense public that acquiring material goods on credit was a smart thing to do, they have trapped them in a web of debt. By making life an inexhaustible bureaucratic nightmare or rules, regulations, forms, ID cards, registrations, and red tape, those in power maintain control and accumulate power. H.L. Mencken would be proud: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

The corporate/government/banking oligarchy started the fire. The world is burning to the ground and politicians have thrown gasoline onto the fire with passage of debt financed stimulus programs, Obamacare, bank bailouts, the Patriot Act, NDAA, and a myriad of other government “solutions”. To anyone willing to think for just a few minutes, the picture is unambiguous. This requires the ability to think critically – a missing gene among the majority of Americans.

Critical thinking is the careful, deliberate determination of whether one should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim and the degree of confidence with which one accepts or rejects it. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness. Critical thinking requires extensive experience in identifying the extent of one’s own ignorance in a wide variety of subjects (“I thought I knew, but I merely believed.”)

One becomes less biased and more broad-minded when one becomes more intellectually empathetic and intellectually humble. I have observed little or no critical thinking skills in the pompous asses that write daily columns in today’s newspapers and zero critical thinking skills among the vacuous pundits and big breasted brainless fashion models that yap all day long on CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox and the Big 3 dying networks.

Any thinking would be a shocking change of pace from the corrupt corporate owned politicians in Washington DC. Other than Ron Paul and a few other truth tellers, critical thinking from a politician or a government bureaucrat is about as likely as Obama not using a teleprompter. Everything being spewed at the public from the MSM, Wall Street, and Washington DC is intellectually dishonest, manipulated and packaged by pollsters and PR firms. I’ve come to the conclusion that those in power desire that public school systems of the United States churn out ignorant, non-questioning morons. A populace that is incapable or uninterested in critically thinking about the important issues of the day is a politician’s best friend. Half the population doesn’t vote and the other half unquestioningly obeys what they are told by their parties.

Ignorance is the state of being uninformed about issues and unaware about the implications of those issues. It is not about intelligence. A huge swath of America is ignorant due to lack of education and a low class upbringing. But, I know many college educated people who haven’t read a book in 20 years or could care less about economic issues. They made a choice to be ignorant. They prefer being distracted by their latest technological toy to dealing with reality.

Most Americans are incapable of looking beyond a 2 to 3 year time horizon. That is why the median 401k balance in the US is $13,000. That is why the average credit card debt per household is $16,000. That is why 25% of all homeowners are underwater on their mortgage. Politicians, banks, and marketers take advantage of this witlessness to enslave the average American. We’ve come to love our slavery. Appearing successful because you drive the right car, wear the right clothes or live in the right house is more important than actually doing the hard work to actually become successful, like spending less than you make and saving the difference.

An informed, interested, questioning public would be a danger to the government as described by H.L. Mencken: “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out … without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.”

There were already two fiscal hurricanes of unfunded liabilities and current deficits churning towards our shores before Obama and his non-critical thinking Democratic minions launched a third storm called Obamacare. No matter how many intellectually deceitful mouthpieces like Paul Krugman and Rush Limbaugh misrepresent the facts, the fiscal foundation of the country is crumbling under the weight of unfunded entitlement promises, out of control government spending and far flung military misadventures. Only someone who is intellectually bankrupt, like Krugman, would declare the National Debt at $8 trillion as a looming disaster when George Bush was President, but declare that a $15.6 trillion National Debt headed towards $20 trillion by 2015 isn’t a danger now that Barack Obama is President. The intellectual and moral credentials required to write for a major newspaper have fallen markedly since the days of Mencken.

The combination of educationally uninformed, ignorant by choice, and intellectually dishonest will be fatal for the country. Total US credit market debt as a percentage of GDP is just below an all-time high, exceeding 350% of GDP. It is 25% higher than it was at the depths of the Great Depression. Consumer debt fell in 2010 – 2011 because banks wrote off about a trillion dollars of bad debt, while government debt has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Now consumers are back racking up more debt, with government encouragement and subsidies responsible for the surge in student loan and auto debt. With GDP stalling out, government debt accumulating at $1.4 trillion per year and consumers back to their delusional selves again, this ratio will pass 400% by 2014.

The financial crisis was caused by excessive utilization of debt. In order to correct these imbalances, the country needed to undergo a deleveraging and reversion back to a country of savers. Savings equals investment. Instead, our “leaders” have reduced interest rates to 0% and have gone on an unprecedented government borrowing and spending spree. Savers and senior citizens are punished, while gamblers and speculators are rewarded. Anyone who thinks about this strategy for a few minutes will realize it is asinine and hopeless. It enriches the few and impoverishes the many.

Based upon a realistic assessment of our current spending trajectory, The National Debt of the U.S. will exceed $25 trillion by 2019. That is more than double the figure when Bush left office. George Bush almost doubled the National Debt from $5.6 trillion to $11 trillion during his reign of error. It seems one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that spending money they don’t have will have no negative consequences (“deficits don’t matter” – Cheney). When you have a Federal Reserve willing to print to infinity there is no limit to how much you can spend. Only a fool would believe there won’t be consequences. That fool writes an opinion column for the NYT and has a Nobel Prize on his bookshelf.

We add $3.8 billion of debt to this figure each and every day. We add $158 million to this figure each and every hour. The interest on the National Debt reached an all-time high of $454 billion in 2011 with an effective interest rate of about 3%. Much of this interest is paid to foreign governments like China, Japan and OPEC nations. This is $1.2 billion per day of interest paid mostly to foreigners. With just the slightest bit of critical thinking one could easily perceive that with a National Debt of $25 trillion and a likely increase in interest rates to at least 6%, our annual interest costs would increase to $1.5 trillion per year. The United States needed to implement a long-term plan ten years ago to address the impossible to fulfill promises made by its corrupt, mentally bankrupt politicians. Americans’ inability to deal with reality and fondness for not thinking beyond tomorrow has shown them to be an inferior species, as Mencken noted: “The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety.”

The entire revenue of the US government totaled $2.3 trillion in 2011, with $800 billion of those funds earmarked for Social Security outlays in the future. Does this appear sustainable? President Obama submits budgets of never ending trillion dollar deficits and then gives stump speeches declaring that we must get our deficits under control. He appears on the MSM declaring his dedication to fiscal responsibility and what passes for a journalist these days nods their head like a lapdog and lobs the next softball to the President. You have to be delusional to believe this claptrap. Luckily for the politicians, most Americans are delusional and apathetic. They just got another text message from their BFF. They are consumed by who will get booted this week from American Idol or Dancing With the Stars. The NFL draft is tonight and did your hear that Kim Kardashian is doing Kanye West?

H.L. Mencken understood the false promises of democracy 80 years ago: “Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. It is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." We deserve to get it good and hard, and we will.”

"US Companies Are Furiously Creating Jobs... Abroad"

"US Companies Are Furiously Creating Jobs... Abroad"
by Tyler Durden

"Whatever one thinks of the practical implications of the Kalecki equation (and as we pointed out a month ago, GMO's James Montier sure doesn't think much  particularly when one accounts for the ever critical issue of asset depreciation), it intuitively has one important implication: every incremental dollar of debt created at the public level during a time of stagnant growth (such as Q1 2012 as already shown earlier) should offset one dollar of deleveraging in the private sector. In turn, this should facilitate the growth of private America so it can eventually take back the reins of debt creation back from the public sector (and ostensibly help it delever, although that would mean running a surplus - something America has done only once in the post-war period). This growth would manifest itself directly by the hiring of Americans by US corporations, small, medium and large, who in turn, courtesy of their newly found job safety, would proceed to spend, and slowly but surely restart the frozen velocity of money which would then spur inflation, growth, public sector deleveraging, and all those other things we learn about in Econ 101. 

All of the above works... in theory. In practice, not so much. Because as the WSJ demonstrates, in the period 2009-2011, America's largest multinational companies: those who benefit the most from the public sector increasing its debt/GDP to the most since WWII, or just over 100% and rapidly rising, and thus those who should return the favor by hiring American workers, have instead hired three times as many foreigners as they have hired US workers. Those among us cynically inclined could say, correctly, that the US is incurring record levels of leverage to fund foreign leverage, foreign employment, and, most importantly, foreign leverage.

Wonder why the BLS is forced to use such now pathetic trickery as collapsing the labor pool by double the natural rate of growth of the labor pool to make it seem that US unemployment is declining? Simple. The WSJ explains: "Thirty-five big U.S.-based multinational companies added jobs much faster than other U.S. employers in the past two years, but nearly three-fourths of those jobs were overseas, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. Those companies, which include Wal-Mart Stores Inc.,  International Paper Co., Honeywell International Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc., boosted their employment at home by 3.1%, or 113,000 jobs, between 2009 and 2011, the same rate of increase as the nation's other employers. But they also added more than 333,000 jobs in their far-flung—and faster-growing— foreign operations. The companies included in the analysis were the largest of those that disclose their U.S. and non-U.S. employment in annual securities filings. All of them have at least 50,000 employees. Collectively, they employed roughly 6.4 million workers world-wide last year, up 7.7% from two years earlier. Over the same period, the total number of U.S. jobs increased 3.1%, according to the Labor Department."

Spin on: "The data show that global companies, aided by overseas revenue, are faring better than purely domestic companies during the economic recovery. Nearly 60% of the revenue growth between 2009 and 2011 at the companies in the Journal's analysis came from outside the U.S. Partly as a result, these companies are more likely to focus their resources and people outside the U.S. The nation's largest private-sector employer, Wal-Mart, added 100,000 jobs outside the U.S. last year; its head count in the U.S. has been flat at 1.4 million since 2007."

Spin off: These companies, benefiting from ZIRP in the US, and exporting of inflation, and thus rising prices, and wages in the rest of the world, can fund their foreign operations domestically at virtually no cost, courtesy of the US taxpayers and savers, who are getting the short end of the stick day after day with a savings rate of 0.001%. And, naturally, these companies which only focus on their return on equity and return to shareholders, will in turn take advantage of this arb, and hire cheap labor globally, there where US debt issuance has the most marginal, yet indirect, impact. In other words, in an ideal world, the offset to soaring US leverage would be that US corporates, with balance sheets sparkling clean, would return the favor for the public sector burden, and hire US citizens who have no interest (i.e., fixed) income, and certainly no dividend income. Instead, the corporates defect most blatantly, an act nobody can blame them for as they do merely what is efficient, and hire foreigners, or those who do not have to suffer the consequences of ZIRP.

Alas, one will read none of this in the WSJ piece which continues as follows: "Economists who study global labor patterns say companies are creating jobs outside the U.S. mostly to pursue sales there, and not to cut costs by shifting work previously performed in the U.S., as has sometimes been the case. "If you want to capture market share in China, you're going to have to hire lots of locals," says Arie Lewin, a professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business who has studied outsourcing and offshoring. "You just can't export that stuff."
Jobs added overseas "are not necessarily at the expense of U.S. workers," adds Martin Baily, of the Brookings Institution, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. Mr. Baily says it is "almost inevitable" that the biggest and most successful U.S. companies would look beyond the nation's borders. One can be sure however, that the topic of job creation geography will be a very tangible one in the upcoming presidential debates: "Where American companies are creating jobs is a hot political issue. President Barack Obama has proposed tax benefits for companies to create jobs in the U.S., and tax penalties for those with large operations in other countries. His tax-overhaul plan—which has no real chance of passing Congress this year—would require, for the first time, that U.S. companies operating overseas pay a minimum tax on their foreign earnings.
Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, say excessive taxes and regulations are driving jobs overseas. Mr. Romney has suggested cutting the nation's 35% corporate tax, which he calls, "among the highest in the industrial world," to 25%, lower than the 28% Mr. Obama has proposed. Of the 35 companies in the analysis, 16 added jobs both in the U.S. and abroad, while six of them cut both domestic and international jobs. Seven companies reduced their workforces in the U.S., while expanding them elsewhere. They include International Paper, which has restructured as Americans use less office paper and demand rises overseas. At the end of 2008, more than two-thirds of its 61,700 employees at the 114-year-old industrial stalwart were in the U.S. Since then, International Paper has closed U.S. mills and bolstered its packaging division through acquisitions in the U.S. and Asia. Its total workforce—61,500 at the end of last year—hardly changed. But the location of those employees changed a lot, with 8,000 fewer in the U.S. and 8,000 more in other countries. So did International Paper's revenue. Sales in the U.S. and Europe in 2011 were nearly unchanged from 2008. But revenue from Asia more than doubled over the period to $1.8 billion."

And so forth. While hardly news to most, the reality is that anyone who thinks in economic terms from a practical standpoint (which automatically excludes 100% of Ph.D. economists and 99% of bloggers and armchair econ experts on twitter), the reality is that soaring US public leverage has virtually no incremental return to the US public sector. In fact, as the above chart shows, the returns from additional US debt are roughly 3 to 1 in the benefit of foreign countries compared to the US. But no matter: the Krugmans of the world will keep on prodding anyone who still cares to listen to their ramblings to spend, spend, spend and raise, raise, raise debt as the IRR will ultimately catch up. Well, he is right: for a very specific subset of Americans - those who are shareholders of big multinationals. Unfortunately, the money, once it trickles down to the bottom line, ends up being deposited... just not in the US, but far, far away, preferably in Taiwan, Singapore and HK banks (now that Obama made any American non-grata in Zurich and Geneva) as those same corporate types know very well that the same government which is so generous in giving, will be just as greedy when the time comes to taketh away. That time is rapidly coming.”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Moment With Nature: Ralph Zurmühle, "Sonora In My Heart"

Ralph Zurmühle, "Sonora In My Heart"
This is where I live, folks... - CP

Musical Interlude: David Schombert, "A Space Journey"

David Schombert, "A Space Journey"

"A Look to the Heavens"

“What's going on in the center of this spiral galaxy? Named the Sombrero Galaxy for its hat-like resemblance, M104 features a prominent dust lane and a bright halo of stars and globular clusters. Reasons for the Sombrero's hat-like appearance include an unusually large and extended central bulge of stars, and dark prominent dust lanes that appear in a disk that we see nearly edge-on. Billions of old stars cause the diffuse glow of the extended central bulge. 
 Click image for larger size.
Close inspection of the bulge in the above photograph shows many points of light that are actually globular clusters. M104's spectacular dust rings harbor many younger and brighter stars, and show intricate details astronomers don't yet fully understand. The very center of the Sombrero glows across the electromagnetic spectrum, and is thought to house a large black hole. Fifty million-year-old light from the Sombrero Galaxy can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of Virgo.”

The Poet: Linda Pastan, "Carnival Evening"

"What We Want"

"What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names-
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun."

~ Linda Pastan, "Carnival Evening"

The Daily "Near You?"

Painesville, Ohio, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Human Condition..."

"I think it's unfair, but they have the right as fallible, 
screwed-up humans to be unfair; that's the human condition."

- Albert Ellis

Chet Raymo, “Caught In The Middle”

“Caught In The Middle”
by Chet Raymo

"It doesn't take a genius to recognize that human males have a propensity for intergroup violence, and that the killing is often accompanied by rape. One need only read the newspapers. The only question is to what extent these tendencies are innate or culturally inculcated. Nature or nurture? Or both? A new book, "Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World," by population biologist Malcolm Potts and science writer Thomas Hayden, dishes up a bit of both. The violence is in our (male) genes, they maintain, but it is susceptible to cultural control.

Click image for larger size.

What the authors calls "behavioral propensity to engage in male coalitional violence" evolved as far back as the common ancestor of humans and chimps, they claim, although our other close relations, bonobos and gorillas, seem to have found more peaceful ways of living. Genes predispose, say Potts and Hayden, but cultural forces can alleviate the worst of male nastiness. By empowering women to be leaders in cultural, social and political spheres, the violent propensities of men can be restrained. Further, empowerment will give women control of their reproductive destinies, and will therefore result in fewer offspring. Less population pressure will reduce other factors fueling violence and conflict, the authors claim.

Anthropologist Hillard Kaplan reviews the book in the October 9, 2009, issue of "Science." He agrees that the available evidence suggests that male intergroup violence has a long evolutionary history. He believes this tendency was exacerbated into large scale warfare with the development of agriculture and the associated larger population groups and competition for fertile land. Kaplan believes that male group violence is stoked by poor economic prospect for young males. To the empowerment of women he would add education and jobs as a way to reduce antisocial behavior.

There is nothing particularly new or revolutionary about any of this. Progress? Yes, I suppose so, but we clearly have a long way to go before women exercise equal power in society, or before young men in the developing world, especially, have an economic stake in social stability. Meanwhile, as the painting above by Jacques-Louis David, "The Sabine Women," suggests, women and children will continue to be caught in the middle.”

"What It Is..."

"Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is.
 The way you cope with it is what makes the difference."

- Virginia Satir

“A Thief In The Night of America”

“A Thief In The Night of America”
by Michael Kindt

“Let’s say you’re trying to fix your screen door. Last night, let’s say, it was terribly windy and the door came open and flapped back and forth uselessly, much like a politician’s tongue. Perhaps you were away visiting family or something and weren’t home to halt the destruction. So the screen door is all loose and a little bent and will no longer shut. It’s hanging there, screaming WHITE TRASH to the neighborhood.  So you go to work on it with a Phillips screwdriver, trying to tighten the hinges, but it’s very difficult. You can’t get the angle right, can’t get any good leverage. You’re struggling and struggling, perhaps even grunting. Suddenly, the screwdriver loses its grip on the hinge and flies up and stabs you in the shoulder. POP!

You go to the bathroom to clean the wound and look at it in the mirror. It’s pretty bad, with a surprising amount of blood. It’s a puncture wound, so hydrogen peroxide is out. You keep cleaning it, but the bleeding doesn’t really stop. Plus it hurts like hell. You take a couple aspirins, but it’s like throwing bricks into the Grand Canyon. Puncture wounds can get infected quite easily, so you worry and clean, worry and clean, and say “Damn it” a bunch. You look at the screwdriver laying there on the toilet tank. It’s rusty. You try to remember when your last tetanus shot was, but can’t. It’s been years, though.

You decide to go to the doctor, but you only have $274 to your name and you still have to buy groceries and keep gas in the car so you can get back and forth to work and/or school. Maybe you even have kids. That $274 has to last two weeks–and it would, easily, if you didn’t have to go to the doctor. You drive one-handed across town to a walk-in clinic. You’re holding a wet, bloody rag over the wound as you drive. For fun, you pretend inside your head that you’re a gunshot victim and are coming straight outta Compton. “Thug life,” you say out loud and chuckle.

You note as you drive that your town is located in the wealthiest nation ever built by mankind upon the earth. The Roman Empire was nothing compared to America.

At the clinic, you fill out the form with lies. You say your name is something, even though it’s something else. You make up a social security number and give a phony address. For laughs, you provide them the phone number of a Pizza Hut. The doctor cleans out the wound with his magical sterile solution, closes it with a couple dissolvable stitches, and bandages everything up tight. He gives you a tetanus shot for good measure, plus a 3-day prescription of antibiotics as a precaution. He tells you how to keep it clean and to be on the lookout for any increased redness around the wound, as this is a sign of infection.

Off you go to the lobby, where, according to the form you filled out, the entire fee is due, all $322.46 of it. $125.50 of that is simply because you are a new patient and have never used the services of this fine medical establishment before. A fine, in other words. “I only have $20,” you tell the receptionist flatly and set the bill down on the counter. “Sorry.” You’d shrug, but your shoulder hurts. “You’ll have to bill me the rest, I guess. See ya.” Of course, you’ll have to pay the full price for the antibiotics. The doctor may prescribe expensive, name-brand medication, obeying his pharmaceutical overlords, or he may prescribe a much cheaper, generic version of the same stuff. It all depends on if he wants to come back in his next life as a cockroach or not.

This method of DIY health insurance won’t work for anything very serious or for anything requiring on-going care, but it works well for one-time colds and injuries, though. Also, you may get caught. They may track you down, but who cares? So you damage your credit score, reducing your ability to become a debt serf. That’s all your credit score is, right? A numerical measure of your ability to go into debt? So it’s no big thing, despite what the commercials teach us. True, a bad credit score can make it impossible to get certain jobs or rent certain apartments. As this century progresses, I’m sure it will be used to discriminate against people in other ways as well. If you need medical care, though, and have no money, what, exactly, are you supposed to do? Anyway, God bless America! *attaches flag pin to lapel*"
Michael Kindt is writer living in South Dakota whose work has appeared in College Times, Midwest Lit Review and in the poetry anthology “It’s Dark & Scary In Here.” He’s the author of “Early Onset of Night, Volume One” and blogs at Twitter: @MichaelKindt

"How It Really Is"

"How the Fed Favors The 1%"

 "How the Fed Favors The 1%"
 by Mark Spitznagel

“A major issue in this year's presidential campaign is the growing disparity between rich and poor, the 1% versus the 99%. While the president's solutions differ from those of his likely Republican opponent, they both ignore a principal source of this growing disparity. The source is not runaway entrepreneurial capitalism, which rewards those who best serve the consumer in product and price. (Would we really want it any other way?) There is another force that has turned a natural divide into a chasm: the Federal Reserve. The relentless expansion of credit by the Fed creates artificial disparities based on political privilege and economic power.

David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher, pointed out that when money is inserted into the economy (from a government printing press or, as in Hume's time, the importation of gold and silver), it is not distributed evenly but "confined to the coffers of a few persons, who immediately seek to employ it to advantage." In the 20th century, the economists of the Austrian school built upon this fact as their central monetary tenet. Ludwig von Mises and his students demonstrated how an increase in money supply is beneficial to those who get it first and is detrimental to those who get it last. Monetary inflation is a process, not a static effect. To think of it only in terms of aggregate price levels (which is all Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke seems capable of) is to ignore this pernicious process and the imbalance and economic dislocation that it creates.

As Mises protégé Murray Rothbard explained, monetary inflation is akin to counterfeiting, which necessitates that some benefit and others don't. After all, if everyone counterfeited in proportion to their wealth, there would be no real economic benefit to anyone. Similarly, the expansion of credit is uneven in the economy, which results in wealth redistribution. To borrow a visual from another Mises student, Friedrich von Hayek, the Fed's money creation does not flow evenly like water into a tank, but rather oozes like honey into a saucer, dolloping one area first and only then very slowly dribbling to the rest.

The Fed doesn't expand the money supply by uniformly dropping cash from helicopters over the hapless masses. Rather, it directs capital transfers to the largest banks (whether by overpaying them for their financial assets or by lending to them on the cheap), minimizes their borrowing costs, and lowers their reserve requirements. All of these actions result in immediate handouts to the financial elite first, with the hope that they will subsequently unleash this fresh capital onto the unsuspecting markets, raising demand and prices wherever they do.

The Fed is transferring immense wealth from the middle class to the most affluent, from the least privileged to the most privileged. This coercive redistribution has been a far more egregious source of disparity than the president's presumption of tax unfairness (if there is anything unfair about approximately half of a population paying zero income taxes) or deregulation. Pitting economic classes against each other is a divisive tactic that benefits no one. Yet if there is any upside, it is perhaps a closer examination of the true causes of the problem. Before we start down the path of arguing about the merits of redistributing wealth to benefit the many, why not first stop redistributing it to the most privileged?”
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Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World”

Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World”

"Fukushima: Hanging by a Thread"; A Comment

"Fukushima: Hanging by a Thread"
By Dr. Mark Sircus
"After writing my essay “Radioactive Hell on Earth”—actually I wanted to change that title to “Fukushima on Steroids”—I see Christina Consolo’s essay “Fukushima is Falling Apart”: "Are you ready—it is becoming clear that we, our children and our entire civilization is hanging by a thread. It is a very sorry thing to report that we have literally shot ourselves in the foot with a big nuclear shotgun full of radioactive particles of the worst conceivable kind.

It has taken a year but finally “a U.S. Senator finally got off his ass and went to Japan to see what is going on over there. What he saw was horrific. Reactor No. 4 building is on the verge of collapsing. Seismicity standards rate the building at a zero, meaning even a small earthquake could send it into a heap of rubble. And sitting at the top of the building, in a pool that is cracked, leaking, and precarious even without an earthquake, are 1,565 fuel rods.” If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain, this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire that could wipe out most of the northern hemisphere; certainly it would be a massive civilization-breaking event.

After an onsite tour of what remains of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facilities, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki saying, “The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected. The precarious status of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance.”
Fukushima Daiichi Reactor building 4 and exposed fuel pool.
Image source: Asahi Shimbun

1,565 fuel rods translates into 460 tons of nuclear fuel stored in pool in a barely intact building on its third and fourth floors. If the storage pool breaks and runs dry, the nuclear fuel inside will overheat and explode. The worst-case scenario drawn up by the government includes not only the collapse of the No. 4 reactor pool, but also the disintegration of spent-fuel rods from all the plant’s other reactors. The wall of the south side is falling apart at reactor No. 4 and Dr. Helen Caldicott said she would evacuate her family from Boston if it did.

Consolo says, “If this pool collapses, as Senator Wyden is now saying too, we would face a mass extinction event from the release of radiation in those rods. This may be the most important thing you ever pay attention to for the sake of your family, friends, your neighbors, every one you know and meet, all of humanity.”

“Preliminary reports of soil contamination are starting to come in from the USGS, who has seemed reluctant to share this information. Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado so far have the highest radioactive particle contamination out of the entire U.S. Iodine, cesium, strontium, plutonium, uranium, and a host of other fission products have been coming directly from Japan to the west coast for thirteen months. Reports in the past week indicate the pollen in southern California is radioactive now too, and it is flying around, and if you live there and go outside, you are breathing it in. And so are your children,” continued Consolo.

Spent reactor fuel cannot be simply lifted into the air by a crane as if it were routine cargo. In order to prevent severe radiation exposures, fires and possible explosions, it must be transferred at all times in water and heavily shielded structures into dry casks. As this has never been done before, the removal of the spent fuel from the pools at the damaged Fukushima-Dai-Ichi reactors will require a major and time-consuming reconstruction effort and will involve charting in unknown waters.

Reports indicate that things are so hopeless at the plant that workers are not even working on weekends and certainly governments around the world have not gotten together in a desperate Manhattan Project[1] (in reverse) to save humanity.

Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear power industry executive, is claiming that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is already 10 times worse than the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union. If that is true it’s already taps for a whole lot of men, women and children in the northern hemisphere with the absolute promise that the radiation will continue relentlessly through the coming years. It is sounding like nuclear hell coming to earth to teach us something about our arrogance, massive stupidity and pathetic weakness.

While our government would love us all to believe that the nuclear problems in Japan are under control, nothing could be farther from the truth. Engineers for Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) say readings of airborne radiation inside reactor No. 2 showed almost 73 sieverts per hour this week. To put that into perspective, exposure to that amount of radiation would kill a normal person within minutes. These levels are some of the highest readings since the beginning of the disaster and there is no one telling us that this nuclear contamination will lessen.

MOX Plutonium Fuel: The mixed oxide fuel (MOX) reactor[2], which burns with plutonium/uranium, is more deadly than those burning on uranium-enriched fuel, according to nuclear experts. The half-life of plutonium-239 in MOX is 24,000 years and just a few milligrams of P-239 escaping in a smoke plume will contaminate soil for tens of thousands of years. A single milligram (mg) of MOX is as deadly as 2,000,000 mg of normal enriched uranium meaning that one mg of MOX is basically two million times more powerful than one mg of uranium. If even a small amount of this potent substance escapes from the plant in a smoke plume, the particles will travel with the wind and contaminate soil for tens of thousands of years.

Ray Guilmette of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements said that plutonium “is thousands of times more radioactive than uranium,” if absorbed into the body. Donald Olander, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said that because plutonium decays quickly, it produces radiation that can kill cells in the body more quickly. But the plutonium itself would pose a severe threat only if it was involved in a violent reaction that turned it into dust particles that could be inhaled. No one knows the exact number but plenty of the fuel rods at risk are MOX, thus containing deadly plutonium. If that blows up then we might end up wishing we had had a nuclear war instead.

Limited Nuclear Exchange: If you want to know what this means from mainstream sources, tune into what International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its U.S. affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) are saying would happen from just a limited nuclear war—forget about a full-scale meltdown of thousands of dirty nuclear fuel rods.

More than a billion people around the world would face starvation following a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) that would cause major worldwide climate disruption, driving down food production in China, the U.S. and other nations, according to a major new report released by Dr. Ira Helfand, the author of "Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk." Helfand said, “The needless and preventable deaths of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history. It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it.”

The Dalai Lama summaries the situation saying, “We have degenerated into an insane society, unconsciously committing mass suicide by ecocide. Unrestrained corporate capitalism coercively and insidiously exploits vulnerable people and myopically plunders, depletes and corrupts finite planetary resources that sustain life. Billions of people suffer needless poverty, starvation and avoidable disease, while obscenely privileged corporate, political and religious plutocrats greedily acquire power and excessive material wealth far beyond their conceivable needs.”
Special Note: These subjects are covered in my Nuclear Toxicity Syndrome book as well as the second edition of my Iodine book (both published in 2011), which dive deeply into the issue and threat of radioactive iodine.

Having lots of sulfur on hand as well as sodium bicarbonate, iodine, clay and magnesium is a good start for a radiation survival home pharmacy.

[1] The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II with intent to end the war.

A Comment: OK, this comment may finally convince you that I've, at last, truly lost my mind. So be it. The only possible solution I can imagine to stop this monster is to nuke the site, take it all completely out, and in the process destroy these lethal fuel rods and the melted slag cores. There is NO currently available technology that can deal with this situation. Yes, I know, we'd take a tremendous radiation spike, and there would be many deaths caused by the radiation, but consider what we're facing here: if that pool does collapse into the melted-through core below, and releases the radiation from nearly 16,000 fuel rods, the entire planet is facing what may literally be an extinction level event, the slow and gradual poisoning of mankind. No place on earth would be safe from the wind currents carrying it, similar to the plot of the 1964 movie "On The Beach." Yeah, I hear you, how dramatic, what nonsense, what a fool this guy is! That's fine, read the many posts on this blog alone regarding this situation, then believe what you will. We did this to ourselves, folks, and may God have mercy on us all... - CP