Thursday, May 31, 2012

"A Look to the Heavens"

"In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, "This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent." Of course, M13 is now modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. 
Click image for larger size.
Telescopic views reveal the spectacular cluster's hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter, but approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. Along with the cluster's dense core, the outer reaches of M13 are highlighted in this sharp color image. The cluster's evolved red and blue giant stars show up in yellowish and blue tints.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, "Tending, As All Music Does, Toward Silence"

"Tending, As All Music Does, Toward Silence"
by Chet Raymo

“One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, the average life span in developed countries was about 40 years. In 1900, it was closer to 50. Today, we're pushing 80 (click on map for larger image.) Men have an appreciably shorter life expectancy than women, which means, on average, that I am in the last decade of my life. Funny, but I feel like a spring chicken. The increase is almost entirely due to scientific medicine, agriculture, nutrition and sanitation. My doctor wants me on drugs for cholesterol and blood pressure. My sister urges me to buy lots of little weedy things from Dr. Andrew Weil. My daughter pushes deep breathing. I'll stick cautiously with my doc and try to live healthy and breathe deep.

The futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that we are on the verge of dramatically increasing the length of human life as we learn the biochemical causes of senescence and death. If he is right, my grandkids, now in their teens, may live with good health well past 100, or - who knows? - until they get knocked down in the street by a bus or cut low by disease. Kurzweil apparently takes fistfuls of dietary supplements. He's twelve years younger than me; we'll see who lives the longest.

Will humanity be able to cope with another doubling of life span? I am just as happy that I won't be around to find out. Give me another decade or so and I think I'll be ready to tottle off to "that cottage of darkness." I'm not expecting anything on the other side, but if the immortalists turn out to be right and I am blessed with an eternity of Chetness, maybe I'll finally get around to reading Proust.”

The above quotes are from Mary Oliver.

"The Peculiar Evil..."

"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

- John Stuart Mill,
"The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth"

"How It Really Is"

"PIMpCO's Gross: When Will The Admission Come?"

"PIMpCO's Gross: When Will The Admission Come?"
by Karl Denninger

“There comes a time when one must ask - how long will the self-deception continue? "Yet while the whales have no immediate worries about extinction, their environment is changing – and changing for the worse. The global monetary system which has evolved and morphed over the past century but always in the direction of easier, cheaper and more abundant credit, may have reached a point at which it can no longer operate efficiently and equitably to promote economic growth and the fair distribution of its benefits. Future changes, which lie on a visible horizon, may not be so beneficial for our ocean’s oversized creatures."

Really?  Ever-cheaper and more abundant credit has promoted economic growth? When and where did this take place? I'm truly interested because I know where it didn't take place - over the last 30 years in the United States!

The provision of ever-more credit has never, over the last 30 years, led to more GDP growth than the credit extended.  That is, the thesis that extension of credit leads to economic progress net-net has been disproved. What has been proved repeatedly, however, is that the "whales" - like Gross and the big banks - have eaten all the plankton.  The problem is that as the above graph shows there was never an increase in plankton or even a sustainable reproduction of them and thus the population of food up the chain has been depleted on a sequential basis for 30 years.

That Bill Gross uses a sea analogy is interesting.  There are myriad examples of this sort in the area of fishing and sustainable fishing stocks, where everything appears fine and "catch" goes up - right up until it craters as the population collapses.  Ever-increasing efficiency through better and larger nets, bigger fishing vessels and faster and "better" ways of catching the fish lead everyone to think the sea has an inexhaustible resource in the form of fish, but this is in fact not true.  The fish must spawn at a rate that allows them to survive to adulthood and be caught; if you catch fish faster than the new ones can grow to adulthood eventually the population collapses to zero.

Thus it is in the financial world as well.  We have lied to the American people and in fact the people of the world for 30 years about how "credit" and "borrowing" leads to economic progress.  It does not - it in fact leads to privation and destruction, as the fact of the matter is that the cheapening of borrowing has never, historically, led to economic growth at a rate that exceeds that of the borrowing!

In other words we have run a serial ponzi scheme for 30 years and now, suddenly, Bill Gross finds that we've run out of suckers! Or, to put it Bill's way, the plankton are disappearing and so are the little fish on which the larger fish depend.  The problem is that just as with fishing this didn't happen overnight - it happened because for 30 years self-deluded and self-interested people like Bill Gross have argued for and supported the unsupportable and impossible-to-finance - the game that we can always find another sucker, another  "big growth opportunity" and another means to finance deficit spending and leverage.

The claim was a lie as even the most-rudimentary understanding of basic exponential math demonstrates and now the truth is intruding into Bill's consciousness - as he, and the others at the top, begin to starve. Of course Bill continues to deny that he was responsible for eating all the fish and indirectly eating all the plankton.... even though he was. Now what?”

The Economy: "The Z-Shaped Recovery"

"The Z-Shaped Recovery"
by Dan Amoss

"The recovering US economy is not recovering…and neither are the economies of Europe and China.
Manufacturing Activity in the Eurozone vs. in the US

As the chart above shows very clearly, manufacturing activity in the Eurozone has already slumped to recessionary levels, while US manufacturing activity is merely muddling along. “New signs of a global slowdown are darkening the economic outlook,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The US reported that businesses were slowing their orders of computers, aircraft, machinery and other long-lasting goods. Measures of business sentiment in Europe slipped, and reports from purchasing managers at manufacturers around the globe turned down. Among them, China, the world’s second-largest economy, registered its seventh straight drop in an important manufacturing index.”

Apparently, “flat” is the new “up”…exactly as Bill Bonner has predicted numerous times in this column during the last few years. “When the recession of ’09 hit,” Bill remarked recently, “economists and pundits wondered what shape the recovery would be. V? or W? We said it would be an L. Down…then dragging across the floor for a very long time. “A real recovery was ‘impossible,’ we said, choosing our words recklessly…but correctly. It was impossible for a debt-soaked economy to recover until the debt had been squeezed out, we said. Well, here we are, 5 years after the crisis hit, and we’re still at the bottom of the L. Debt is still being wrung out of the private sector…while the feds pour it on the public sector as fast as they can.”

Very true. In fact, without the federal government’s “beautification tactics,” the economy’s trajectory might look more like a “Z” than an “L.” Without transfer payments — i.e. handouts — from the federal government, household incomes have barely recovered from the lows of 2009. The chart below shows the official measure of real disposable personal income (in blue). The red line is the same number, excluding transfer payments. The growing gap between the two numbers since 2008 shows the extent to which overall personal income relies on government handouts.
Disposable Personal Income vs. Disposable Income Excluding
 Income from Government Assistance Programs

Incomes from actual employment are stagnating for many reasons. Perhaps the most obvious reason is most of the jobs being “created” today are of lower quality than the jobs lost. The next chart includes data from the BLS household survey. The official number of full-time jobs remains well below the 2007 peak, while the number of part-time jobs is making new all-time highs:
Increase in Part-Time Employment Since 2007 vs. Drop in Full-Time Employment

Obviously, part-time jobs do not deliver the same paychecks as full-time jobs. But incomes are also stagnating for the following, yet largely unacknowledged, reason: The US economy now requires steady doses of monetary inflation to prop up unsustainable mountains of debt. The Fed feels it must force interest rates lower to make these debts easier to service. In 2008, the towering mountain of debt was in the private banking system. But the federal government is building up a mountain of debt that makes the private sector’s look like a molehill.

Soaring government debt usually invites hyper-inflation to the party. The Bernanke Fed last week announced that it plans to print as much money as necessary to keep its preferred measure of consumer prices rising at a steady 2% rate — regardless of trends in private sector productivity. Put another way, the Welfare State and Federal Reserve are, in effect, seizing part of the private sector’s productivity gains. The result: Stagnating living standards. The benefits of innovation and expanded production aren’t accruing to consumers in the form of lower prices and to workers in the form of higher wages. Thanks to the Fed and ever-growing government budgets, prices will be much higher than they otherwise would have been…and employment growth will be much lower.

The inflationary actions of the Fed and the ECB, which investors today view as helpful, will ultimately destroy shareholder value at many companies. The mechanics of loose money flooding the banking system provides a feeling of euphoria (for a little while). Then the hangover comes when this monetary inflation boosts operating costs and compresses profit margins at the businesses that underlie the stocks in the S&P 500. But the news is not all bad. Gold loves inflation."

The Economy: "Were it Not for Dumb Money…"

"Were it Not for Dumb Money…"
by Bill Bonner

"Thank God for dumb money! What would the world be without chumps? Suckers? Bagmen and patsies? Who would buy a ladies handbag for $1,500? Or blue-jeans for $150? Who would buy an oversized show-off pickup…or a $4 million McMansion? Who would buy Facebook?

The Facebook IPO seemed to attract dumb money. Billions of it. Investors thought they could buy it at the offer price and get an almost guaranteed “pop.” They thought the fix was in. They were right. Trouble was, the fixers ‘f’ed up. The fix was broken even before the market opened. Smart insiders were supposed to sell their shares — which they got in the IPO — to the dumb outsiders on the open market. But so many investors had gotten shares at the IPO price, and hoped to get out at a higher price, there wasn’t enough dumb money to take their shares. Everybody lost money…with the stock falling to $28 yesterday. It made us think more about what a vital role dumb money plays in our economy. More below…

For now, a Wall Street Journal headline yesterday announced that the housing crunch was over. But when we read the details, we discovered that prices were still falling! Housing prices in the US dipped again in the first quarter of this year. Not much…but they were down. And in March, not adjusted for seasonal variations, house prices fell 2.6% from the year before. As “The Big Picture” puts it: “Case Shiller: The housing bear market has not turned.” The stock market might give you the wrong impression too. House-builder stocks are selling at relatively high prices. Pulte sells for 15 times earnings. Toll is at 33 times earnings. Seems a little odd to us. Housing starts are only about half their level of 10 years ago. Why would investors think these builders deserve growth-stock prices?

We’ll wait for the big discounts. After all, there are some 18 million empty housing units in the US. At present rates of building, new household formation and immigration, it will take decades to work off the inventory. Business Insider: “Another housing collapse is coming soon.”

As you know, dear reader, we think the whole world economy is going into a slump. Britain is already in recession. Euroland is probably in recession or close to it. That’s the world’s biggest economic region right there. America is sinking too. Japan has been up — largely because of all the post Fukushima rebuilding — but it won’t hold up long if its customers cut back. American consumers already seem to anticipate a pullback. “US consumer confidence falls unexpectedly in May,” reports The Financial Times. “Consumers were less positive…” the FT continued.

Hardly surprising, is it? A report earlier in the week told us that soldiers returning from service in Iraq or Afghanistan were going on disability at twice the rate of those who did their service in the Gulf War. Why? They can’t find jobs, says the reporter. They can’t find jobs because the economy is not recovering. And now the stock market, the oil market, the gold market are all catching on. And the bond market too.

“Gold investors rush for the exits,” says The Wall Street Journal. And here’s Bloomberg on the bond market: "Treasury Yields Tumble to Records": "Treasury 10-year note yields fell to a record low as investors sought refuge from the deteriorating credit conditions of European sovereign borrowers. The benchmark yield reached 1.6085 percent, less than its previous all-time low of 1.6714 percent on Sept. 23, as Spain struggled to recapitalize its banks and Italian bonds fell as the country sold less than its target at a debt auction. The Federal Reserve announced Sept. 21 that it would buy $400 billion of longer-term Treasuries, funding the purchases with sales of shorter-term notes, in an effort to bolster the US economy and spur jobs growth. Benchmark 10-year note yields fell 12 basis points to 1.62 percent at 5:02 p.m. New York time after touching the lowest in Fed figures beginning in 1953. The 1.75 percent note due May 2022 added 1 1/8, or $11.25 per $1,000 face amount, to 101 5/32, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices. The yield drop was the biggest for the benchmark note since April."

As for stocks…Marc Faber: “There are more and more stocks that are breaking down — economic sensitive stocks and companies that cater to the high-end,” he said. “That suggests to me the economy is likely to weaken and the huge asset run is likely to come to an end with significant asset deflation.”

Stock prices…bond yields…housing — all going down. Where are the chumps when you need them? The trouble with chumps is that they are unreliable. You count on them to buy Facebook, for example. And then, the patsies don’t seem to get the message. They sell! “Investors bet against Facebook,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

And poor Zuckerberg. The man was knocked off the richest-of-the-rich list. Bloomberg has that story: "Zuckerberg Drops Off Billionaires Index as Facebook Falls": "Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook (FB) Inc.’s co- founder and chief executive officer, is no longer one of the world’s 40 richest people. The 28-year-old’s fortune fell to $14.7 billion yesterday from $16.2 billion on May 25, as shares of the world’s largest social-networking company dropped 9.6 percent. They slipped another 2.3 percent today to $28.19. That extended the stock’s losses to 26 percent from the worst-performing large initial public offering in the past decade and cut Zuckerberg’s net worth to $14.4 billion."

Typically, lottery and IPO winners have dumb money. Sports stars often have dumb money too. Of course, a lot of wealthy people — the ‘patsy rich’ — have money so dumb it should be forcibly sterilized. When poor people get money it is usually dumb money. They don’t know what to do with it. So, they do dumb things. That’s why they’re poor. They pay more than they should…often for things that aren’t worth buying at all. Fancy cars…fancy houses…fancy restaurants… They think the idea is to get rid of money. Usually, they part company with their loot quickly…and they’re poor again.

People think the rich are different. They think the rich are smart about money. But very often, it ain’t so. Wall Street is a sophisticated industry. It has developed products that appeal to every taste and every budget. It’s good at separating the poor and middle classes from their money; they put their dough into mutual funds and Facebook shares. They’re even better at separating the rich from their money. Why? The rich have more money to lose. More tomorrow…"

Musical Interlude: Jason Mraz, "I Won't Give Up"

Jason Mraz, "I Won't Give Up"

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

“Generation Wii... or Generation We?”

“Generation Wii... or Generation We?”
by Dacher Keltner

“On May 14, 2012, Greater Good Science Center Faculty Director Dacher Keltner delivered the commencement address for graduating psychology students at the University of California, Berkeley. We are proud to present the text of his speech.

“In 1986, Ivan Boesky, of insider trading fame, gave a graduation speech on this very same Berkeley campus of free speech and Nobel laureates. That day he declared, "Greed is healthy." A year later in the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko famously turned that phrase into, "Greed is good." This battle cry was part of a pendulum swing seen before in history, one that expressed a certain view of who we are as a species. We are selfish gratification machines. Happiness is found in material pursuits. Other people's concerns are not our own. Altruism is an illusion. The bad in human nature is stronger than the good. That phrase and its accompanying ideology was the mantra of my generation, and scientific studies show it brought us:

    * Rises in loneliness and a loss of friends;
    * A loss of trust in our communities and institutions;
    * Increases in narcissism and decreases in empathy;
    * Spikes in anxiety, to the point where 75 percent of Americans now say they are too stressed;
    * and Humvees, Enron, the recent economic collapse, an insulated one percent, and levels of inequality in the United States that are literally shortening the lives of our citizens.

Our graduates have been trained in a discipline - psychological science - that applies the impartial rigors and open-minded inquiry of science to hypotheses like, "Greed is good." And in any fashion that we test that hypothesis, it fails. Instead, we bring into focus a much different picture of human nature.

It begins with Charles Darwin, devoted father of 10. Say Darwin's name today and most think of "survival of the fittest" and evolutionary struggles that are bloody in tooth in claw. Those were interpretations placed upon Darwin by the Social Darwinists who followed him. Ideologues like Herbert Spencer turned Darwin's ideas into a justification for domination by the strong of the weak. Darwin saw things differently. In the wake of nursing his beloved daughter Annie to her death at the age of 10, Darwin came to understand that the suffering of the young is essential to our evolution, and that sympathy is our strongest instinct. In Darwin's words: "Sympathy will have increased through natural selection, for those communities, with the most sympathetic members, will flourish and raise the greatest number of offspring."

The reason for such a claim is simple. As we began to walk upright on the African Savannah, our pelvises narrowed even as our frontal lobes expanded dramatically to accomodate our gift for gab and love of language. The end result: Our babies had to be born prematurely to get those giant heads through the birth canal. Our offspring are the most vulnerable mammal on the face of the Earth. This game-changer in hominid evolution gave rise to specific branches of our nervous system that help us care. The sight of suffering and vulnerability triggers activation in an old region of the brain known as the periaqueductal grey. A bundle of nerves in the chest known as the vagus nerve, which slows the stress response, allows us to look at others and to vocalize. Then there's the miraculous neuropeptide, oxytocin, which floats through the brain and body; when whiffed through a nasal spray in experiments, it makes people empathize, trust, and share money with strangers.

We are wired to care. As we exercise this caregiving branch of the nervous system in acts of generosity, cooperation, and service, recent studies show, reward circuits in the brain are activated, and we find greater joy than when we indulge our narrow self-interest. Acts of care make us more likely to live into our 70s and 80s. Consider one recent study by an enterprising young psychologist. When asked in surveys, most Americans believe that spending money on personal desires brings greater satisfaction than giving it away. But when participants actually were given the chance to do that, to spend $20 on themselves or give it away, it was the act of generosity that led to greater happiness. To care is good.

We can care because we have evolved the capacity to rise above the loud demands of the internal voice of self-interest, and imagine the minds, interests, and concerns of others. This empathic flight is enabled by mirror neurons and large portions of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It is enabled by our wildly contagious tendencies.

Recent studies of a community in Massachusetts find that all manner of tendencies - dietary habits, anxiety, sadness, hope and happiness, and generosity - spread through neighborhoods as readily as flus and colds. Recent studies find that when we give to a stranger, that stranger goes on to give seven percent more in interactions in which we are no longer present.

We are separated by the boundaries of our skin, we are separate constellations of trillions of cells, but in the reaches of our mind we are connected to one another. Other people's gains and costs can become our own. And in these acts of empathy, where we see the world through the eyes of others, we come to understand that we all suffer, we all yearn for the happiness of our children. We come to see that we share a common humanity.

In the words of the poet Percey Shelley: "The great secret of morals is love, or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination. In caring and imagining the lives of others we encounter the fragile, fleeting beauty of life. This is the heart of reverence - our recognition that we are part of something sacred that is larger than any individual self. You are part of a family, a community, an education at Berkeley, a historical movement, this graduation ceremony in this hallowed Greek Theater.

The ancient Greeks believed that reverence - the feeling of awe for things that are greater than the self - is a critical substance of human communities, as important as our capacity for justice. It is the feeling of reverence and awe that led Charles Darwin, standing in a South American forest, to muse, "It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for so little purpose." Those feelings of awe spurred Darwin to imagine his theory of evolution by natural selection.

It was John Muir's feeling of awe at the idea that a black locust tree is from the pea family that led him to wander the United States and eventually find his way to the nearby Sierras. On one of his days there he wrote: "We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams, and rocks, in the waves of the sun - a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal."  And out of those experiences of awe Muir began to write and inspire others, and form the Sierra Club, and eventually inspire the creation of the state and national park system.

It is this sense of reverence that gives rise to the deep sense of gratitude, and an appreciation of things that are given. When scientists gave resources to people in 15 remote cultures, from the Amazon to Indonesia, they found that they gave on average 40 percent away to complete strangers. Adam Smith, the great economist, pondered why so much cooperation would arise in the England of the Industrial Revolution, when people were presumably driven by pure self interest. His answer: reverence and gratitude are the engines of healthy communities. To share is good. When we reflect on others' generosity, recent studies find, we experience 25 percent boosts in happiness and better health profiles, and our children perform better academically.

We all have so much that has been given to us to be grateful for. The chance to learn. To be at Berkeley. The sun on your skin. The Eucaplyptus trees. To enjoy this day. Your parents. Your parents have given so very much to you.

You, our graduates of 2012, are the new generation. You have so many incredible gifts. You are brilliant, imaginative, outspoken, irreverent, free-spirited, and kind. And you are something more. I hear it in the new questions you ask in the classroom and in your research, and I see it in your actions in the world. You're using psychological science to humanize the criminal justice system, destigmatize mental illness, create nurturing environments that build stronger connections in the frontal lobes, reduce stress - our biggest killer - in the health care system, make Facebook kinder.

You are Generation We. And I don't mean the video game console Wii; or "wee" in the British sense of meaning "small"; or "oui" the French word for yes; or "we" like what a two year old says when he has to go to the bathroom. I mean "we" as in us, we as in this human species, we as in common humanity, we as in all sentient beings.

You will not be fooled by false claims like, "Greed is Good." Instead I hope you are guided by the wisdom of the ages, now fortified by science: to care is good, to be thankful is good. There is so much good and beauty to revere in this world.

You will have amazing lives. You will become social workers, clinicians, professors, high school teachers, medical doctors, journalists, new social media gurus, inventors, and lawyers. Some will serve cappuccinos and write poetry or make it big in some rock-and-roll band. You will take care of troubled individuals, create more humane and just public policy, use psychological science to combat climate change and tilt the balance toward greater equality, make discoveries in neuroscience, make the new social media kinder, and nurture better schools and neighborhoods. Some of you will just stick out your thumb and hit the open road.

You will fall deeply in love. Have children. Pay bills. Buy homes. You will grapple with the first noble truth of Buddhism: that to live is to suffer, but in suffering we recognize the common substance of our humanity. You will have experiences of reverence and awe that send tingling shivers throughout your body - the incredible beauty of your loved one's hands, your new baby emerging out of that very narrow birth canal, the rolling laugh of your child, the quiet of night, seeing your parents become grandparents, and those patterns repeating themselves in your fast moving lives. Time will travel so fast. And some day, perhaps, you will sit in this very Greek Theatre, and watch your own child become a Berkeley grad.

I hope that you will live your life by what makes you feel awe, what brings those goosebumps to your skin, and what brings you closer to the ineffable beauty of others. I hope that you will embrace the concerns and suffering of others, heeding the words of the Dalai Lama: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

I hope that you will continually delight in the wonders of our species, which led to this science you have studied. I believe you will, for you are Generation We. And as you change the world, this admiring faculty here on stage will feel our own kind of reverence for what you do. Graduates of 2012, congratulations, and I wish you the best of luck.”

"Out-sheeping The Sheep..."

“We laugh at sheep because sheep just follow the one in front. We humans have out-sheeped the sheep, because at least the sheep need a sheep dog to keep them in line. Humans keep each other in line. And they do it by ridiculing or condemning anyone who commits the crime, and that’s what it’s become, of being different.”
- David Icke

The Poet: Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early”

"Song of the Builders"

"On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God -
 a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
 this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.

Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.”

~ Mary Oliver, “Why I Wake Early”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Scanning the skies for galaxies, Canadian astronomer Paul Hickson and colleagues identified some 100 compact groups of galaxies, now appropriately called Hickson Compact Groups. The four prominent galaxies seen in this intriguing telescopic skyscape are one such group, Hickson 44, about 100 million light-years distant toward the constellation Leo. The two spiral galaxies in the center of the image are edge-on NGC 3190 with its distinctive, warped dust lanes, and S-shaped NGC 3187. Along with the bright elliptical, NGC 3193 at the right, they are also known as Arp 316. 
 Click image for larger size.
The spiral in the upper left corner is NGC 3185, the 4th member of the Hickson group. Like other galaxies in Hickson groups, these show signs of distortion and enhanced star formation, evidence of a gravitational tug of war that will eventually result in galaxy mergers on a cosmic timescale. The merger process is now understood to be a normal part of the evolution of galaxies, including our own Milky Way. For scale, NGC 3190 is about 75,000 light-years across at the estimated distance of Hickson 44.”

“7 Ways to Tell If You’re Not Currently Living Your Highest Purpose in Life”

“7 Ways to Tell If You’re Not Currently 
Living Your Highest Purpose in Life”
By Jacob Sokol

1. You’re not waking up excited in the morning. If you’re not excited (or at least enthusiastic) in the morning – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you’re waking up a couple of days each week with a monotonous feeling of having to do this again today – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you wake up excited in the morning because a personally exciting life awaits you.

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” - Steve Jobs

2. You have really “high highs” and really “low lows.” If you can’t seem to break the phenomenon of feeling absolutely phenomenal for a few days, but then kind of crappy afterwords – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you can notice a pattern of thinking how amazing life is one week, and how shitty it is the next – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you still have the really high highs but you also have much higher lows (and your happiness becomes sustainable).

“I’d always believed that a life of quality, enjoyment, and wisdom were my human birthright and would be automatically bestowed upon me as time passed. I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live – that there were specific disciplines and ways of seeing the world I had to master before I could awaken to a simple, happy, uncomplicated life.” - Dan Millman

3. Your life isn’t entirely fulfilling you anymore. If despite knowing that you have SO much to be grateful for, deep inside there’s a feeling that something missing in your life- then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you’re doing a lot of the things that society suggests are “right,” but you still feel that something is wrong – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you’re entirely fulfilled because you’re living a life engulfed in personal meaning.

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” - Helen Keller

4. You’re surrounded by people who are bringing you down. If you find yourself surrounded by people who are bitching, nagging, criticizing, complaining, and condemning – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you don’t have a group of people in your life who’s qualities you admire – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you’re spending the majority of your time with people who inspire, empower, and encourage you to be a better person.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

5. You’re ignoring your dreams because you’re scared to move on. If a couple times each month you start to fantasize about what you would do if you had more free time – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If there are a ton of things you’d rather be doing with your life, but haven’t yet found a way to muster up the courage and tell your family and friends – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you’re spending your time doing the things that you love most in life (whether your family and friends understand/agree with your or not).

“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” - Abraham Maslow

6. You’re working in a job that depletes you of energy. If the primary purpose of your job is to get a paycheck and there’s not much personal meaning in what you do – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you’re counting the days until the next three-day weekend or six-day vacation – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you don’t just have a job but you have a calling (one of the many differences between a “job” and a “calling” is that a job depletes you and a calling energizes you).

“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.” - Buddha

7. You feel stuck in the “rat race” but don’t know the next step. If you’re in a perpetual state of thinking that you’ll be “happier when” the next good thing happens and you’re not enjoying the journey – then you’re most likely not living your highest purpose. If you’re so focused on getting “there” that you’ve accepted being submerged in stress and anxiety as normal – that’s probably a sign that you’re “off purpose.” When you’re Living On Purpose, you’ve embraced that the priceless pleasure of life comes from enjoying the journey on your way to a destination deemed meaningful.

“For a master, the rewards gained along the way are fine, but they are not the main reason for the journey. Ultimately the master and the master’s path are one. And if the traveler is fortunate – that is, if the path is complex and profound enough – the destination is two miles farther away for every mile he or she travels.” - George Leonard

If any of the above resonated with you, you’re not alone. It wasn’t too long ago that I was the poster-child for embodying all 7 of these above mistakes (plus a dozen more). My life was the quintessential example of being “off purpose.” It’s precisely because I’ve felt that pain – and was able to escape it, find my purpose, and create an extraordinary life – that I’m so passionate about helping you do the same. I’m here for ya homey!
7 Tips and Tricks that You Can Use to Help Find Your Purpose:

1. Make your motivations intrinsic:
Untold Truth: As privileged and lucky as we are, society sets us up for failure because it motivates us with extrinsic incentives like fame, wealthy, and beauty. Chasing these things are flashy and fun for a short time but ultimately unfulfilling. They’re like drinking salt-water when you’re thristy.
What To Do: To remove those “low low” feelings, focus on intrinsic incentives like relationships, contribution, and personal growth. Create a life around them and you’ll be super On Purpose.

“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” - Barack Obama

2. Live in integrity with your values:
Untold Truth: If you want to find and live your purpose, you’re gonna need to know what you stand for. I’ve found that the best way to know what you stand for is to get clarity on what it is that you value. What’s important to you? What do you give a shit about? If you were running for the toilet and had no time to think, could you tell me what your top five values are without stopping and soiling yourself?
What To Do: To help find your values, questions thing. Try stuff out. Experiment. Do the opposite of what you were told. Step outside of the box. CRACK YOUR COMFORT ZONE! And then *reflect on what’s important to you.* (This worksheet will help.) Once you know what’s important to you, the more that you act in accordance with those values, the better you’re gonna feel about yourself.

“If you want to be faithful to someone, start by being faithful to yourself.” - Paulo Coelho

3. Become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable:
Untold Truth: Our lives are limited within the confines of our “comfort zone.” When we get out of our comfort zone, and become uncomfortable, WE WIN LIFE! The cool thing about comfort zones is that when we step outta them, they grow! That’s right — by being momentarily uncomfortable, we own our fear, and in the future, the things that scared us aren’t so intimidating anymore. If you want to find your purpose, you’re probably going to have to do things that you’ve never done before – and in order to do them, you’re going to need to get outside of your comfort zone.
What To Do: Feel that discomfort, and despite it’s presence, go do what you need to do. The more you do that, the less uncomfortable you’ll feel in the future. Make it a game to become comfortable being uncomfortable and you’ll find your purpose much sooner.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” -Nelson Mandela

4. Embark on the “Hero’s Journey.“
Untold Truth: This “Hero’s Journey” is the a common thread amongst all great characters (and stories) in life. Your soul is calling to you. It’s trying to tell you that you have a unique path that only you can take. Your mind can rationalize all sorts of award-winning reasons why you shouldn’t take the untraveled trail. But to deny that call from your soul is to deny yourself the life that you deserve to live. It’s the difference between being fully ALIVE and cruising aimlessly on auto-pilot all your life.
What To Do: In order to create an extraordinary life, you’re going to need to walk away from what you know. You’re going to have to face your fears, improve your conditioning, and create your own unique path. You’re going to feel scared, excited, and alive!

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin

5. Combine your strengths with your passions:
Untold Truth: People who are Living On Purpose are continuously using their strengths while doing work that matters to them on a daily basis.
What To Do: Science is suggesting that instead of focusing on your weaknesses, get them to the point when they won’t harm you, and then cultivate the crap outta your strengths. This is what will make you extraordinary. Then use your strengths to do things that make you excited and watch a sense of confidence and fulfillment appear within you (and if you mix service to other people in the mix, your purpose will appear before you know it!)

“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths.” -Martin Seligman

6. Avoid the trap of validation:
Untold Truth:
As a baby, we need love. So from a young age we create images of ourselves, pretending to be what we think other people want us to be. Then we project these images into our relationships and try our best to actually be the images. But of course, we can’t ever completely conform to someone else’s vision. And this is how inner conflict originates. When people start to feel a discrepancy between the image they’re projecting, and their authentic selves, MAJOR conflict arises within them.
What To Do: In order to find and live your purpose, you’re gonna need to become indifferent of other people’s opinions of you. This goes for both the good and the bad opinions of other people – they can both be used as forms of validation if unchecked. Here’s a counter-intuitive tidbit of wisdom: The less you look for other people’s approval, the more of it they’ll give to you.
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

7. Start Living On Purpose!
Untold Truth: If you want to be fulfilled in life, finding and living your purpose is not only something you can do, it’s something you must do. You can continue to live a boring life without sustained happiness, and you can pretend like you don’t know there’s more to life, but one day – maybe in a few months, or maybe in a few decades – you may wake up miserable and resenting yourself for not doing something about it when you had the chance.
What To Do: Start Living On Purpose! I want to make sure that you don’t get stuck living a life that’s not extraordinary so I’ve created a package called Living On Purpose. It aims to help you find, live, and rock your purpose in life! Start “Living on Purpose!”
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
 -Robin Sharma

"Remain True..."

"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge." 

- Teilhard de Chardin

Chet Raymo, “All Men Have The Stars”

“All Men Have The Stars”
by Chet Raymo

"At the end of his big-bang book "The First Three Minutes", physicist Steven Weinberg famously wrote: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." His point is this: We have discovered in this century that the human species is just one of billions of species of life on a typical planet near a star that is just one of a trillion stars in a galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies. It is no longer possible, he implies, to think that the universe was made for us or that our existence is in any way important on the cosmic scale.

Subsequently, in a book of interviews, Alan Lightman and Roberta Brawer asked 27 top cosmologists what they thought of Weinberg's remark. Some agreed with Weinberg. Some emphatically disagreed. Responses ranged from traditional religious faith to total skepticism and indifference. Apparently, 27 of the world's most brilliant mathematicians and physicists are no better than the rest of us at figuring out the human meaning of the universe. It occurred to me that I might confront some ordinary people, kids even, with Weinberg's remark and record their reactions.

For my first interview I called Molly Bloom, an old friend in Dublin, Ireland. It was very late at night when I spoke to Molly ( I had forgotten the five hour time difference). We talked about nature a bit, and what it all might mean. When I quoted Weinberg's remark to her she responded with some agitation: "...God in heaven," said Molly, " there’s nothing like nature the wild mountains then the sea and the waves rushing then the beautiful country with fields of oats and wheat and all kinds of things and all the fine cattle going about that would do your heart good to see rivers and lakes and flowers all sorts of shapes and smells and colours spring up even out of the ditches primroses and violets nature it is as for them saying theres no God I wouldn't give a snap of my two fingers for all their learning why don’t they go and create something I often asked him atheists or whatever they call themselves go and wash the cobbles off themselves first then they go howling for the priest and they dying and why why because they're afraid of hell on account of their bad conscience ah yes I know them well who was the first person in the universe before there was anybody that made it all who ah that they don't know neither do I so there you are they might as well try to stop the sun from rising tomorrow..."

Excited by Molly's unpunctuated enthusiasm, I gave a call to Huck Finn, a friend of my youth from Hannibal, Missouri. How did he respond to Weinberg's impression of pointlessness, I asked. Huck was thoughtful, and then answered by recalling something that happened when he and a pal named Jim were drifting down the Mississippi River on a raft. "It’s lovely to live on a raft," said Huck, his voice choked with nostalgia. "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened."

"That question is certainly related to Weinberg's observation," I suggested, "especially when you consider the size and complexity of the universe. There's a heck of a lot of stars out there." "Jim he allowed they was made," said Huck, "but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many."

"Ah, yes," I said. "Many modern cosmologists would seem to agree with you. The number of stars is staggering." "Jim said the moon could a laid them," Huck said. "Well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn't say nothing against it, cause I've seen a frog lay most as many." I laughed: "I don't think many contemporary cosmologists would accept the frog-moon theory for the origin of stars."

My conversation with Huck reminded me of another friend of my youth, a kid from an asteroid called B-612, if I remember rightly. I never knew his real name; we called him the Little Prince. Now it happened that he was in the neighborhood for another visit, so I gave him a buzz. We chatted for a while, recalling our earlier affection for one another. Then I quoted Steven Weinberg: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless."

He laughed, and said, "Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will be just one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all of the stars in the heavens." I wasn't sure I understood his meaning.

"All men have the stars," he continued, "but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems." "Like for my 27 cosmologists," I ventured.

"All these stars are silent," said the Little Prince, his voice so soft and gentle I could barely make it out over the noisy telephone line. "You - you alone - will have the stars as no one else has them -" I was still perplexed. I did not exactly see what this had to do with finding a human meaning in the universe of galaxies.

"In one of the stars I shall be living," he said. "In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night...You - only you - will have stars that can laugh!" And he laughed again."

Satire: "Trump Could Help Romney Win Elusive Billionaire A*****e Vote"

"Trump Could Help Romney Win Elusive Billionaire A*****e Vote"
Bid to Woo Top .00001%
by Andy Borowitz

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – "Businessman Donald Trump’s endorsement of former Governor Mitt Romney could help the presumptive GOP nominee win over the support of a constituency that has been cool to him thus far: billionaire a******s. Reportedly, the top .00001% wealthiest Americans have regarded Mr. Romney with suspicion to date, wondering, in the words of one billionaire, “if he’s really one of us.” “It’s a bit of a reach for us billionaires to vote for someone like Romney, who just has a couple of hundred million in the bank,” said Grayson Rance, a billionaire who has so far viewed the former Massachusetts governor warily. “But if a bona fide billionaire asshat like Trump is for him, that makes you give the guy a second chance.”

Mr. Rance said that it was hard to believe that Mr. Romney, “who only owns five or six homes, could relate to people like us and understand our problems,” but that Mr. Trump’s thumbs-up “counts for a lot.” Speaking on CNN’s “Situation Room,” Mr. Trump told host Wolf Blitzer his reason for endorsing Mr. Romney: “After four years of a President who was born overseas, its time for a President who was born here and sends his money overseas.” As for Mr. Romney, he experienced a rare emotional moment on Memorial Day, placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Banker."
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The Daily "Near You?"

Toledo, Ohio, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

The Economy: "The Dishonest Media And The Debt Ceiling"

"The Dishonest Media And The Debt Ceiling"
by Karl Denninger

Watch the spin machine ramp up into high gear! "Europe is crumbling. China is slowing. The Federal Reserve is dithering. Yet the biggest threat to the emerging U.S. economic recovery may be Congress." John Boehner, the leader of the House Republicans, has promised yet another fight with the White House over the debt ceiling - the limit Congress has placed on the amount the federal government can borrow. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we suffered through an identical performance last summer. Our analysis of that episode leads to a troubling conclusion: It almost derailed the recovery, and this time could be a lot worse.

Recovery?  What recovery? The US Government has debased your purchasing power by 10% a year for four years running - that is, it has emitted new credit money into the system equal to approximately 10% of the economy for the last four years.  If you have a job you've managed to gain 7% over the last three years in your wage.

If you don't see something wrong with this picture you're not very bright.  You've lost 33% (compounded) in purchasing power due to monetary debasement by the government over three years' time but you got 7% back.  Unless you went to a different school than I did you're down 26%, more or less, or one quarter of your purchasing power, over the last three years (and another 8% or so in the 4th!)

Now of course some people have done better, and some worse.  But this is the what the average American has seen over the last three years. Yet Bloomberg publishes OpEds from "Professors" such as Betsey Stevenson who argue that "Republicans are taking the government's creditworthiness hostage when they threaten not to increase the debt ceiling." There is no such thing as the government's creditworthiness.  It's your money that is being pledged, not theirs - there is no "theirs"!
"But refusing to raise the limit wouldn’t free the government of its existing spending obligations. Rather, it would leave the government with no choice but to default on its debts." The government has no spending "obligations."  Debts are obligations.  Entitlements are not.  Social, military and other spending is not an "obligation."  Those are political promises and a choice. Only debt, contractually entered into, is an obligation.

Of course the convenient lie that we have "obligations" is trotted out on this point whenever the debate arises.  What's not talked about is how raising the ceiling is in fact naked shorting the currency and thereby destroying the purchasing power and wealth of every American.  It is monetary inflation, and that inflation must show up somewhere. If there are 10,000 units of production and 10,000 units of currency and credit in the system, and you emit another 1,000 units, every one of the existing 10,000 units is devalued by 10%! That's theft and it's an outrageous fraud to state that this is somehow "good" for the American public or the economy.  It most certainly is not.

This is nothing other than a massive tax increase in terms of its impact on the average America.  It's impact is huge - for the average American who pays somewhere around a 20-25% blended Federal Tax rate (including FICA, Medicare and income tax) their effective tax burden has literally doubled over the last three years as a result of deficit spending!

Tax cuts?  There have been no tax cuts!  There have in fact been massive tax increases imposed on everyone.  You, I, everyone.  We've all had our wealth and income stolen and given to the banksters who gambled in Europe and the United States on bets that soured, and rather than force them to take their losses and perform supervisory functions as required by law so that depositors are not at risk the government regulators refused to act as required by law and now they're screwing you blind to the tune of more than a trillion dollars a year to prop up these *******s - over $3,000 per person, per year for the last three years has been siphoned off through these policies and given to the likes of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citibank and JP Morgan never mind foreign institutions like Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse!

There is no solution to this problem to be found down this path; dilution of the consumer's purchasing power cannot work because the entire premise is that you can "restart" consumer borrowing growth to get leverage expanding again - the precise scam that was in the 1980-2007 timeframe. How is the consumer going to increase borrowing when you've stolen 25% of his purchasing power and intend to steal another 7-10% a year going forward? He won't because he can't.  This is the flaw in the scheme and it is exactly the same scheme that was run in Europe and blew up in the face of Greece and now threatens to blow up Spain.

What's worse is that we're still playing this game here with pension funds - funds that assume and proclaim the ability to earn 8% in safe forward returns in a world where the ten year risk-free rate (so says the market) is 1.65%.  That's an outrageous and intentional scam; did you notice, incidentally, that the 25% you've lost in purchasing power is about the three-year run rate on the difference between the assumed pension return and the actual risk-free return?  Guess what - if you have a pension you think you're going to receive in 5, 10 or 20 years your fund is short the same 25% as you are or it's exposed to the risk of even greater losses and in fact you're rather likely to get zero!

The so-called "university professors" and "policy people" who argue a policy path of "more borrowing and continued deficit spending" are traitorous jackasses who deserve to be run out of town on a rail.  The firms that employ these people may as well be Bernie Madoff prototypes as their alleged "paths" will end in exactly the same way his "securities deals" did.  Universities who hire so-called "professors" that spew this garbage on OpEd pages and allow this sort of mendacious crap to be taught to kids are issuing "degrees" that have the precise value of used toilet paper. If you bring these people and firms into your life or business you deserve what you get.

We have options in the US today but we won't have them for long.  Right now we are benefiting from people running away from Europe which is about to go prompt critical and into our Treasuries, which leads us to believe we can borrow unlimited amounts of money for 10 years at 1.65%. That's a nice thought - but how are you going to pay it back ten years hence?  If you're not, and intend to keep rolling it over, what happens if and when the rollover price is 5% instead of 1.65% - and you can't make the interest payments at 5%? This is how Greece went down the drain and it's what's facing Spain. And it is what we will face here if we allow people like Betsey Stevenson to keep putting forward policy pronouncements that fail the fundamentals of 3rd grade arithmetic.”

The Economy: "Dead Presidents Stay Dead"

"Dead Presidents Stay Dead"
by Bill Bonner

"Yesterday, we promised to tell you more about our L-shaped non-recovery. It’s already lasted 5 years since subprime cracked up… It could last another 5…10…20…or even 100 years. Okay, 100 is probably an exaggeration, but who knows? “An About-Face for Investors,” says The Wall Street Journal. As predicted in this space, the “Facebook debacle turns high hopes into potentially mood-souring skepticism.” “Retreat from the stock market continues,” reports The New York Times: “I’m just extremely skeptical about the ability of a retail purchaser to be able to play on a level field in the market,” said [Alex] Tsesis, who is 45 and lives in Chicago. “I’m just trying to get out of stocks.”

Investors had a chance to think over the long weekend. When the markets opened on Tuesday morning, they were ready to act. The Dow rose 125 points. Gold dropped $20. They dumped Facebook. But it hardly matters. Up one day. Down the next. Who cares? The big trend is what matters. And the big trend now, we believe, is down. Down for stocks. Down for the economy. When this happens, it can last a very long time. For evidence, we give you exhibit #1 — Japan!

Yesterday, The Financial Times reported that a thousand yen invested in stocks in 1985, “even including dividends and inflation… has made exactly nothing.” Colleague Justice Litle elaborates: “Stocks for the long run” is a mantra of conventional investors everywhere. It is also the name of a book by Wharton finance professor (and babbling permabull) Jeremy Siegel. Whenever the market outlook grows cloudy, or even downright bleak, we are urged to remember: It’s the long run that counts. And yet, how’s this for “long run:” A yen-denominated investment in Japanese stocks, made in 1985, has been dead money for 27 years. Japan’s dead presidents have gone nowhere…and made nothing for investors. They have been dead…dead…dead…for an entire generation.

“If it can happen to Japanese stocks,” asks Justice, “could it happen to American ones?” Certainly — there is no real reason why not. America has already “turned Japanese” in respect to perpetual ZIRP (zero interest rate monetary policy). Structural unemployment issues, and the utter failure of stimulus programs — so much for “shovel ready!” — resemble the Japanese experience. Like their Japanese counterparts, American policy makers have no new ideas… only tired old bad ones.

Back in the USA, investors are leaving the stock market. Mutual fund outflows continue at a rate of about $3 billion a month. The Dow is almost back to where it began the year. Trading volume is subdued. As of last Friday, Facebook shares were down about 16% from the IPO price. Yesterday, they kept going down, closing below $29. The WSJ continues: “Facebook’s banged-up share price and the technical snarls that bollixed up the stock’s first day of trading on the Nasdaq…have left some small investors even more glum…”

They’re probably not nearly as glum now as they will be later. The Dow is still above 12,000; stocks may not be at their peak, but they are far from their bottom. You’ll know it when you get to a real bottom. Investors are so glum you have to hide their guns. That’s when you get P/E ratios of 5 and dividend yields of 5%. That’s when you get bargains. Someday, unless this really is a new era, they will be real bargains. This day they are not. The WSJ is wrong…or perhaps premature. Investors have not done an about face. Not yet. They’ve wheeled around a few degrees from their comfortable bullish trajectory of a few months ago. But they will have to keep turning in order to change course by a full 180 degrees. Then, watch out below!

What could make investors spin further against stocks? Two things: First, Europe could blow up much worse than people expect. The eurozone has been on the brink of disaster for so long, most people think it will stay on the brink forever…as if there were an invisible barrier that keeps them from going over the edge.

We are connoisseurs of disaster here at The Daily Reckoning. Not that we like them; we just appreciate them. They clear away a lot of dead wood. And, yes, dead presidents. People invest badly. They spend unwisely. All is well ’til the disaster hits. Then, the dead presidents disappear. One thing we’ve noticed is that disasters seem to take longer than you expect to start…and then they move faster than you anticipated. Remember the blow-up? You could see it coming for years. Then, when it happened…it blew up fast. Poof…hundreds of billions in dead presidents…gone! So too the collapse of the housing industry — particularly those ‘low-docs, cash back, subprime mortgages’ — was visible long before it happened. We waited. We waited. And we waited some more. And then, when the catastrophe began, things happened so fast we couldn’t keep up with them.

The breakdown in Europe could happen fast too. “I don’t know about you,” said a hedge fund manager we talked to last weekend, “but if I were in Greece, I’d be looking for a way to get my money out of the country. There’s a very good chance the Greeks will convert euro deposits to drachma. They will probably close the banks. The Greeks will probably riot and burn banks…if not bankers. So, what would you do if you were in Spain…or Italy? Wouldn’t you be trying to read the handwriting on the wall too? And wouldn’t you want to get your money out too? Of course you would. That’s why the Swiss are talking about imposing negative interest rates, to try to discourage other Europeans from exchanging their euros from Swiss francs. You don’t have to look very far ahead to see what would happen. Just wait ’til people start lining up in front of the banks to get their money out. If you were in Athens and you saw people lining up to get their money out of the banks…wouldn’t you get in line too? Most people would. And the banks don’t have enough money to honor all those depositors’ claims. So the banks have to go broke…and the whole thing falls down hard.”

According to the news media, everyone is making plans for when Greece says auf wiedersehen to the euro. But even an “orderly” exit of Greece from the euro is estimated to cost $1 trillion. And there isn’t enough money in all the banks in Euroland to pay for a disorderly exit. Which is one reason we’re keeping our “Crash Alert” flag flying.

The other major reason for guarding against a crash is this: all the world’s major economies are approaching recession. Old friend Marc Faber says he expects a global recession either in the last quarter of this year or early in 2013. Asked about the odds, Faber put them at “100%.” One hundred percent does not sound like odds to us. It sounds like certainty. We doubt anything in economics is that sure. But let’s say the odds of a ‘synchronized worldwide recession’ are only 50%. That still puts a lot of empty space between today’s stock prices and a recession-inspired bottom. We wouldn’t want to be standing in that space, lest the market crash down upon our heads.

You know, dear reader, that it is futile to make predications, especially about the future, as Yogi Berra would say. But heck, we’ll take a guess. The euro zone won’t fall apart…at least, not completely. The Germans will give way. It won’t be pretty. No ‘elegant solution’ will be found. Instead, an awkward, ugly…even grotesque…combination of concessions, compromise, and craven corruption will keep the European project together. In fact, it will be more together than ever. Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel will find a way to preserve the union. Most likely, the Europeans will learn from the US. They will write a huge check to member states to cover…or partially cover…the debts of the past. The union will be responsible for the debts of, say, Greece or Ireland. It will be a scheme vaguely reminiscent of the Brady Bonds, or Alexander Hamilton’s takeover of state debt after the American Revolution, with new debt backed by the EU…of extremely long duration (long enough to allow inflation to cut down the real value of the bonds.) The debts of the future, on the other hand, will be the responsibility of member states (lenders beware!). Everyone can save face. Lenders (banks) will get their money (more or less). Borrowers can avoid disorderly defaults and bankruptcy (more or less). And Germany and France can hold onto their beloved European Union (more or less) …and still not be on the hook for Greek behavior going forward.

But as to the second danger — that of a global recession and bear market — investors won’t be so lucky. The odds may not be 100%, but they are high enough so that a wise investor will take cover. Beware the disappearance of dead presidents in a crash. Then, beware again: the dead presidents could stay dead for a long, long time.”

"How It Really Is"

Thom Hartmann, "The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis"

Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear joins Thom Hartmann. Now on to a story that - tragically - just won't go away: The Fukushima Nuclear crisis. Radioactive fish are now swimming in U.S. waters. Scientists have - for the first time - discovered Bluefin tuna that were contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan last year - swimming off the coast of California. Radioactive cesium ten times above the normal level was found in the fish - though health officials say the levels are too low to be considered a health threat. Then again - no amount of radiation is good for you. Meanwhile - back at the crippled nuclear plant - a bulge was detected in the walls of reactor four - increasing fears that the structure holding tens of thousands of highly radioactive spent fuel rods is not sound. Should the reactor four building give way - it could trigger a nuclear disaster even worse than Chernobyl.”
Hat tip to Julie Mitchell for this material.

"Inside Japan's Crippled Nuclear Plant"

 "Inside Japan's Crippled Nuclear Plant"

"Japanese officials tour the stricken Fukushima-Daichii power plant, offering a glimpse inside one of the world's worst nuclear disasters." Video: Reuters

"Growing Fear Over Fukushima Fuel Pool 4 as Wall Bulge Detected"

 "Growing Fear Over Fukushima Fuel Pool 4 
As Wall Bulge Detected"
by Common Dreams Staff

"A new bulge in the walls of the Fukushima Unit 4 nuclear plant has driven growing new fears over in Japan. The No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. New concerns have risen after its operator reported a bulging of the building's wall. Attention has focused on Unit 4’s spent fuel pool because of the large number of assemblies filled with rods that are stored high above the ground at that severly damaged reactor building. Three other reactor buildings at the site are also badly damaged, but their pools hold fewer used assemblies.

On Saturday Japan’s government sent Environment and Nuclear Minister Goshi Hosonoto to inspect Unit 4. Mr. Hosono said the government accepted the Tokyo Electric Power Company's assurances that reinforcement work had shored up the building. But many Japanese have scoffed at such assurances and point out that the pool's cooling system has malfunctioned several times. ''The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool,'' said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University's Research Reactor Institute. ''Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment.''

The "New York Times" reports: "What passes for normal at the Fukushima Daiichi plant today would have caused shudders among even the most sanguine of experts before an earthquake and tsunami set off the world’s second most serious nuclear crisis after Chernobyl. Fourteen months after the accident, a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium still sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic. The public’s fears about the pool have grown in recent months as some scientists have warned that it has the most potential for setting off a new catastrophe, now that the three nuclear reactors that suffered meltdowns are in a more stable state, and as frequent quakes continue to rattle the region.

To try to quell such worries, the government sent the environment and nuclear minister to the plant on Saturday, where he climbed a makeshift staircase in protective garb to look at the structure supporting the pool, which he said appeared sound. The minister, Goshi Hosono, added that although the government accepted Tepco’s assurances that reinforcement work had shored up the building, it ordered the company to conduct further studies because of the bulge. “The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool,” said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute and one of the experts raising concerns. “Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment.”

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, expressed similar concerns during a trip to Japan last month. After his recent visit to the ravaged plant, he said the pool at No. 4 poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk” and the retrieval of spent fuel “should be a priority, given the possibility of further earthquakes.”The worries picked up new traction in recent days after the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said it had found a slight bulge in one of the walls of the reactor building, stoking fears over the building’s safety. Senator Wyden, whose state could lie in the path of any new radioactive plumes and who has studied nuclear waste issues, is among those pushing for faster action. After his recent visit to the ravaged plant, he said the pool at No. 4 poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk” and the retrieval of spent fuel “should be a priority, given the possibility of further earthquakes.”

The fears over the pool at Reactor No. 4 are helping to undermine assurances by Tepco and the Japanese government that the Fukushima plant has been stabilized, and are highlighting how complicated the cleanup of the site, expected to take decades, will be. The concerns are also raising questions about whether Japan’s all-out effort to convince its citizens that nuclear power is safe kept the authorities from exploring other — and some say safer — options for storing used fuel rods. “It was taboo to raise questions about the spent fuel that was piling up,” said Hideo Kimura, who worked as a nuclear fuel engineer at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the 1990s. “But it was clear that there was nowhere for the spent fuel to go.”

The worst-case situations for Reactor No. 4 would be for the pool to run dry if there is another problem with the cooling system and the rods catch fire, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material, or for fission to restart if the metal panels that separate the rods are knocked over in a quake. That would be especially bad because the pool, unlike reactors, lacks containment vessels to hold in radioactive materials. (Even the roof that used to exist would be no match if the rods caught fire, for instance.)

Attention has focused on No. 4’s spent fuel pool because of the large number of assemblies filled with rods that are stored at that reactor building. Three other reactor buildings at the site are also badly damaged, but their pools hold fewer used assemblies. According to Tepco, the pool at the No. 4 reactor, which was not operating at the time of the accident, holds 1,331 spent fuel assemblies, which each contain dozens of rods. Several thousand rods were removed from the core just three months before so the vessel could be inspected. Those rods, which were not fully used up, could more easily support chain reactions than the fully spent fuel.”

"Fukushima Could Still Armageddon The World"

"Fukushima Could Still Armageddon The World"
by Modern Survival Blog

"The world has become largely desensitized to what has happened and what is still happening in the wake of the nuclear disaster at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima Japan more than a year ago. Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds Associates, with more than 40 years experience in the nuclear industry explains that the three reactors continue to melt down. However even more disconcerting is the apparent fact that the ‘fuel pools’ of reactors 3 and 4 may be threatening the whole Northern Hemisphere.

You see, the fuel pools (the nuclear fuel storage pools) are themselves suspended three and four stories high in the air, and have badly damaged structural support. Should either of these fall over and lose their cooling fluid, the thousands of fuel rods will overheat and explode, and threaten a world scale disaster never before seen. Even a crack in the fuel pool would be enough to bring on catastrophe, and at a minimum, be the end of Tokyo, as reported on Asahi TV and translated on

 Fukushima Daiichi Reactor building 4 and exposed fuel pool
Image source: Asahi Shimbun
The present conditions of Unit 4 are like this. You see, almost no walls. They were blown off, and honestly speaking, the Unit 4 is a wreck. A wreck. Now, what if an earthquake occurred right now and the water in the pool started to leak? I asked this question to Dr. Koide: "If a large aftershock occurred and the wall here collapsed, the water in the pool would leak out and the spent fuel would not be cooled any more. Then, they would start to melt, probably completely. And huge amount of radiation contained in the spend fuel would be released outside, with no walls to block it." "What if a destructive earthquake occurred during those years?" "That would be the end." "The end?" "Yes."
You see, that would be the end. Unbelievable…unbelievable. This is a serious problem. Reactor #3 had completely blown it’s walls apart leaving the fuel pool (what’s left of it) and the rest of the rubble entirely open. Reactor #4 had it’s roof blown off and has almost no walls remaining. The primary concern is that of earthquakes in the region, and the possibility of an already weakened structure collapsing, leaving no further means to manually keep the thousands of spent fuel rods cool.

I read the following comment  from a professor of physics, “There is no containment – between you and hundreds of tons of spent and fresh fuel is just some water, and air, and time. Ask yourself – what is the next step with the Unit 4 spent fuel pool? What has been done in the past year except to fill it with water and hope for the best? What happens if it fails catastrophically?” The situation there, is and has been on the razor edge of full-on world catastrophe.

Japan’s former Ambassador to Switzerland, Mr. Mitsuhei Murata, was invited to speak at the Public Hearing of the Budgetary Committee of the House of Councilors on March 22, 2012, on the Fukushima nuclear power plants accident. Before the Committee, Ambassador Murata strongly stated that if the crippled building of reactor unit 4—with 1,535 fuel rods in the spent fuel pool 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground—collapses, not only will it cause a shutdown of all six reactors but will also affect the common spent fuel pool containing 6,375 fuel rods, located some 50 meters from reactor 4. In both cases the radioactive rods are not protected by a containment vessel; dangerously, they are open to the air. This would certainly cause a global catastrophe like we have never before experienced. He stressed that the responsibility of Japan to the rest of the world is immeasurable. Such a catastrophe would affect us all for centuries. Ambassador Murata informed us that the total numbers of the spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site excluding the rods in the pressure vessel is 11,421.
Based on U.S. Energy Department data, assuming a total of 11,421 spent fuel assemblies are being stored at the Dai-Ichi site, nearly all, which is in pools. They contain roughly 336 million curies (~1.2 E+19 Bq) of long-lived radioactivity. About 134 million curies is Cesium-137 — roughly 85 times the amount of Cs-137 released at the Chernobyl accident as estimated by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP). The total spent reactor fuel inventory at the Fukushima-Daichi site contains nearly half of the total amount of Cs-137 estimated by the NCRP to have been released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, Chernobyl, and world-wide reprocessing plants (~270 million curies or ~9.9 E+18 Becquerel). Source:

A recent quote in the Japan Times says it all, from Hiroshi Tasaka, who has a doctorate in nuclear engineering and is now a professor at Tama University, “The biggest risk during the meltdown crisis wasn’t the reactors themselves but the spent fuel pools sitting atop them, particularly the one above reactor 4, which still contains about 1,500 nuclear fuel assemblies. I would say the crisis just opened Pandora’s box.“ 

And to put the risk of collapse into perspective, here is a graphic showing earthquakes greater than magnitude 5.0 near Fukushima Japan since January 2011."