Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Due to personal matters posting is and will be spotty for the next several days. Apologies for any inconvenience, and thanks for your patience and understanding. - CP

"The Ignorance of 'Intelligence'”

"The Ignorance of 'Intelligence'”
By Danny Schechter

"Some years ago, I meet a major in American intelligence, a member of the “Red Cell Unit.” As he explained it to me, his unit was actually charged with assessing other spy shops by offering other views, critiquing intelligence estimates and perhaps even evaluating security systems like the specialists who test airport systems by probing for their soft spots and vulnerabilities, and seeing if they can beat them. This soldier had been sent as one more gung ho officer into the war in Iraq only to return, like many, if not disillusioned, aware that all was not working well. He was actually involved in guarding so-called HVT’s (High Value Prisoners) including Saddam Hussein himself, who he came to respect for his intelligence,  before his untimely demise with a rope around his neck. Saddam’s many crimes and errors were often dwarfed by our own.

The United States today has a vast intelligence apparatus, on the ground, in the sky and even in space. Technically it puts the old Soviet Union to shame, and sucks up millions of terabytes of data daily. But, that doesn’t mean that what is reported is understood. The analysts seek to make sense of it but the policy makers are often so locked into templates of action and pre-formulated strategies that insure the input doesn’t lead to course corrections or changes in direction. They operate with a kind of intellectual “locked-in” disease that freezes out new ideas.

The system is manned by ideologists and choked with ideology, constantly leading to so-called intelligence ‘failures’ that fill many library shelves. Yet even when post mortems are filed, few in the commanding heights of our national security apparatus is willing to look back and draw lessons.  They are too busy, lazy or just hacks (as opposed to hackers.)

One reason: so much money is invested in covert media operations that spin and distort reality that the people inside the “deception machine” believe the news that they themselves plant and fabricate. Perception guides reality more than reality guiding perception. Media institutions play a big role in echoing embellished government claims often relying on leaks and plants that come from disinformation bureaucracies and their media assets,

The “uprisings by the ‘rebels” in Syria and Libra are cases in point. In both countries, discontent was mined, military units were recruited, trained, armed and deployed by foreign interests. Some are even working with the very Jihadis we have been denouncing. The United States and Britain took the lead with an assist from the French and NATO. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia recycled some of their oil profits to fund these interventions while trying to keep a public distance. Ironically, some of the people they armed are in Al Qaeda- linked terror groups who have always been described as our “enemy.” So much for consistency!

Years later, government hacks and historians write about these events, usually rationalizing the policy choices that drove US policy but sometimes critiquing it especially when it imploded. Noone in  this world has yet to adequately explain Washington’s biggest failure of all: how they “missed” the Iranian Revolution. National Public Radio recently interviewed one such government historian, David Crist, who has written a book called  "The Twilight War," detailing the “secret history” of America's 30-year conflict with Iran.

NPR Reports: “The book, based on interviews with hundreds of officials as well as classified military archives, details how the covert war has spanned five American presidential terms and repeatedly threatened to bring the two nations into open warfare.”

Crist is no Daniel Ellsberg. He is still a believer in America’s crusade against Iran and advocates tougher action. He tells about a close call between American and Iranian naval vessels in 2003, when he was a member of special operations forces. "We were about an hour into the mission when all of a sudden, three Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats come streaming across from the other side of the river, stop just in front of us, unmask their guns and point them straight at us and then proceeded to bombard us with a hail of choice American obscenities," he says. "Our commander at the time was a Navy Seal who had lived in Tehran until he was 16 and he tried to talk with them. He even rigged an Italian flag turned sideways – which looked liked an Iranian flag – to show we had no hostile intent. We unmasked our guns, we called for our airpower and I thought we were on the absolute brink of a major shooting war with Iran."

Crist and his fellow troops were ordered to withdraw and not antagonize the Iranians by high-level military officials. "So we pulled back with the Iranians trailing us, and what I didn't realize at the time was that that was a pretty significant mistake," he says. "By doing so, we surrendered that entire waterway to the Iranians and they were in the process of the counter-invasion of Iraq. And they were flooding southern Iraq with forces [and arming the Shiite militias]. And what these three boats were doing was trying to prevent us from interfering with that counter-invasion."

Crist says the U.S. should have stopped the Iranians – or made a more concerted effort to stop the Iranians. His animus towards Iran is unconcealed. His bias is blatant! "By backing down, we acquiesced to them," he says. "And it goes far beyond this one boat incident. ... We missed an opportunity, I think, for reducing the amount of influence Iran was going to have in Iraq afterwards." The more you read his account the weirder and more uniformed it becomes,  but because of his intelligence connections, media outlets like NPR assume Crist is  an intelligent “expert”  and give him air time.

Here’s another snatch of the interview conducted by Terry Gross on the show Fresh Air:

GROSS: The U.S. has had several secret war plans to attack Iran. What's the earliest one that you came across?

CRIST: The earliest one was actually in the very early 1980s, about 1980. And oddly enough, it really wasn't geared towards Iran. It was geared towards the Soviet Union. Iran was actually the chessboard on which the U.S. and Soviet Union were going to play. And the amazing thing is through the plan, as the U.S. was discussing ways to counter a Soviet invasion of Iran, which was going to be a precursor to seizing Persian Gulf oil, the whole role and attitude of the Iranians never even figured into the plan.

GROSS: What do you mean the role of the Iranians never figured into the plan?

CRIST: There was no thought about how the Iranians were going to react to either the U.S. or the Soviet invasion. It was if they were sort of a neutral territory, which we're going to play a war on. It's not until about three years later that the United States starts taking a hard look at, you know, the Iranians really don't like either us or the Soviet Union. How do we know they're going to welcome us with open arms if we try to invade them on the precursor that it's to try to stop the Soviets?

GROSS: So this war plan was to invade Iran if the Soviets had invaded or to prevent an imminent Soviet invasion during the Cold War?
CRIST: That's absolutely correct.

His view is accepted as expressed. No one who is critical of US policy is on the show. No one in the know challenges him. Is this some big revelation? Not really. But that’s not all, Christ later admits no one reads his work.  and he is not even allowed to make what he knows of current history public.

CRIST: I've also been an advisor recently to senior leadership. So, yeah, there's a lot I know that I can't have in this book.
GROSS: So you're writing books for the Defense Department that end up in vaults. When do they - when do those vaults end up getting opened?
CRIST: Well, we're just now - my office is just now getting, I think, the Ford administration reviewed for declassification. So you're about 30 years behind the times. So it's a good long time to let the sensitivity of a lot of the issues drop off and also it's long enough that you can then go back and relook at an issue with sort of a more objective eye than you might have had writing about an essentially current event.
GROSS: And the histories you're writing about are based on classified documents?
GROSS: What an unusual and interesting job.
CRIST: Oh, it's fascinating. It's the best job for a historian, in my view.
GROSS: Better if you had readers, though, right?
CRIST: I'm sorry?
GROSS: It would be better if you had readers.
CRIST: It is much better. Nobody reads this.

And it goes on. This is the drivel that passes for in-depth news analysis. Intelligence “experts” with nothing to say, or, probably, not allowed to say what they know. Is it any wonder that Americans are so uninformed about US-Iranian relations? Is this really “interesting” (Gross) or “fascinating?” (Crist?) It’s time to call the Red Cell Unit, because my brain cells are melting."

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Parental Fears: Breaking Family Ties that Bind"

"Parental Fears: Breaking Family Ties that Bind"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

"So often we come into this world carrying the fear of our parents as it is passed down to us and lived through us. When we really examine our fears about something, we sometimes notice that the fear we have is not based on our own experience. Often, if we trace our fear back to its source, we find that one of our parents may have handed it down to us. For example, your mother or father may have had an intense fear of lack of money, stemming from their own life experiences. If that fear was not resolved by the time you came into the picture, chances are you inherited it. Meanwhile, you may have no actual experience of lacking money, so being fearful doesn’t make sense, and it may even block you from doing certain things you want to do.

Keeping in mind that your parents were only trying to protect you, and that most of the errors in judgment they made were made with the best intentions, it might be time to release this fear symbolically. You cannot resolve someone else’s fear for them, but you can decide to let go of it on your own behalf. Whether your parents are still alive or not, it is best to do this in a symbolic way, using visualization and, if you like, ritual. One simple visualization involves inviting your parent to sit across from you in your heart space and sharing your desire to move on from this fear, letting them know that you will not carry it anymore. You may be surprised at the response you get, because it’s possible they will be proud of you, grateful, and proud of your courage.

The more we do this deep inner work with our fears, the better we will be able to parent our own children without burdening them with fears that don’t belong to them. Some of us will do as much of this work as we can before we become parents, while others will be working on this even as our children become adults. Either way, the effects will be felt, because once we break our ties to the fears of the past, our children’s ties to those fears are greatly weakened, so it’s important to remember that it’s never too late."

"How It Really Is"

"Auto Financing: You Don't Need Decent Credit"

 "Auto Financing: 
You Don't Need Decent Credit"
by Karl Denninger

"But nobody could have seen this coming! "Sales of bonds tied to payments on subprime car loans are accelerating at the fastest pace in five years as investors seek high yields amid speculation the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates at record lows until mid-2015.

This is amusing.  Truly amusing.  The "attraction" for the issuers of these Frankenstein monsters is clear, if you read a bit further down: "The subprime auto finance business has grown during the past two years as new lenders compete to make loans with rates of about 17 percent annually, while being able to finance themselves at an average rate of less than 2 percent, Moody’s Investors Service said in a July 17 report. With losses ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, originators collect annual spreads of about 12 percent, according to the New York-based firm."

Funding costs under 2% and rates charged to borrowers of 17%- on automobiles?! No wonder auto sales are "up"- fog-a-mirror loans are back, and the consumer is the one getting hosed this time.  Paying 17% for money to buy a car is just plain nuts. This will seem to work just fine right up until that subprime borrower can't pay, at which point the game will (again) come crashing down around their ears.  The fun with these sorts of deals is that people will generally make their car payment before virtually anything else, since without a car you're not going to get to work.

Bling and "aspirational buying" by people with crap credit is still going on... "Perella’s CarFinance Capital LLC funded more than $100 million in auto loans in its first 10 months of business as it works with more than 1,500 auto dealers serving “non-prime”consumers, who now account for more than a third of U.S. car buyers, the Irvine, California-based company said in an April 24 statement announcing an expansion in Texas."

That's insane. But you know the old saying from Citibank, right?  So long as the music is playing you have to get up and dance. GM, incidentally, is saying something else entirely about its future prospects in its stock price and Ford isn't doing much better...”

"NSA Insider: You Are the Target"

"NSA Insider: You Are the Target: 'They’re Pulling Together 
All the Data About Virtually Every U.S. Citizen in the Country'”
by Mac Slavo

"Few Americans would believe that the government has the technological capability and wherewithal to monitor, track, log, and analyze the everyday activities of American citizens. The idea that the National Security Agency, an organization responsible the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligenc, would operate on US soil to turn the surveillance apparatus on the people they are tasked with protecting has up until now been reserved for conspiracy theorists and Hollywood movies.

It turns out that it’s not a conspiracy, and not only does the NSA operate within the borders of the United States, they are assembling detailed dossiers on every single one of us.  William Binney, an NSA whistleblower who recently resigned his post at the NSA over its illegal domestic surveillance programs, notes that the agency is engaged in implementing a total surveillance net over America with the help of private businesses like internet and telecom companies – and their target is YOU.
"Domestically, they’re pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country and assembling that information, building communities that you have relationships with, and knowledge about you; what your activities are; what you’re doing. So the government is accumulating that kind of information about every individual person and it’s a very dangerous process. From one company alone… they were sending, according to my estimate… I reckon there were between 10 and 12 [companies] that were participating… that one company was providing 320 million average logs per day since 2001."

As we’ve noted previously "Everything You Do Is Monitored." The NSA’s technological capabilities far surpass anything that has ever existed. Not only is the NSA now building a massive surveillance facility in Utah capable of monitoring and logging multiple yottabytes (1 Trillion Terabytes of information) of data like emails, cell phone communications, text messages, shopping records and social network interactions, there are over fifty fusion centers across the United States where data is processed on a local or regional level:

"All of this information will eventually be fused into one large database. In fact, the government has already setup well over fifty fusion centers around the nation. What goes on in these centers is kept strictly confidential, and there doesn’t seem to be any agency in charge of them, but we know they exist, and we know that their purpose is to acquire, aggregate and act on whatever information they have available to them. These are fairly new, appearing just over the last several years. But be assured that as processing power and software technology improves, so too will the surveillance capabilities of fusion like facilities, whether they belong to government, private industry or criminal industry."

Of course the NSA denies the existence of a spy center designed to monitor US-based communications and activity, but we already know from past experience that government denying something exists doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not real.

They are watching everything we do. For what reason? We can’t say for certain, but history tells us any time government(s) start making lists and collecting data it often turns into a mechanism of intimidation, control and a culling of those who are perceived to be acting against the state. Our Republic is on very dangerous ground.”
- http://www.shtfplan.com/

"Mass Government Surveillance Dragnet Goes Into Overdrive"

"Collapse Of Financial System Will Come In August, Maybe September?"

 "Collapse Of Financial System Will Come In August, Maybe September?"
By Eleazar David Meléndez

"Who said the dog days are over? Disappointed by the lack of aggressive action by the U.S. Federal Reserve at the meeting of its powerful rate-setting committee last week, and assuming a wait-and-see posture on results from this week's European summit, pessimistic market-watchers are turning once again to guessing when the clock atop the euro zone time-bomb will finally run to 0.

The consensus? The world economy has entered a final countdown with three months left, and investors should pencil in a collapse in either August or September.

Citing a theory he has been espousing since 2010 that predicts "a future lack of policy flexibility from the monetary and fiscal side," Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, wrote a note Tuesday that gloated "it feels like Europe has proved us right." "The U.S. has the ability to disprove the universal nature of our theory," Reid wrote, but "if this U.S. cycle is of completely average length as seen using the last 158 years of history (33 cycles), then the next recession should start by the end of August."

Reid is not the only one on Wall Street invoking history to predict a late-summer crisis. Since the employment data starting looking pear-shaped in April, economists and strategists have been quick to point out that 2012 is, in economic terms, a deja vú to 2011, when unexpectedly strong gains in manufacturing and employment during the first three months of the year fizzled coming in the summer. Those holding on to the "mirror image" theory point out that, if the pattern continues, things will turn sour very quickly sometime in August or September. To wit, August 2011 was the month that brought the Standard and Poor's downgrade of the U.S. sovereign credit rating and accompanying volatility in the equity markets. It was also the month the European Central Bank acknowledged just how badly the situation was going in Europe, stepping in to buy sovereign bonds.

Last September was not much kinder to the global economy, bringing an intensification of the crisis that prompted the Fed to begin its "Operation Twist" program of monetary accommodation. This year, pessimists are pointing to the next meeting of the Fed's rate-setting body, on Aug. 1; the next "progress report" on Greece by the institutions providing bailout monies to that country, also in August; or the September release of the results by auditors currently combing through the Spanish banking system, scheduled for September, as possible catalysts for the next crisis. "Historically, August is a good month for a big European crisis," Simon Johnson, a prominent MIT economist, wrote in the New York Times' Economix blog on June 21.

Pundits and experts had been putting a deadline on the current crisis for weeks now. Earlier in June, for example, billionaire financier George Soros noted European leaders had a "three months' window" to resolve the political factors underlying the economic crisis in the Continent. However, the last week has seen a lot more calendar-marking, sparked by an IMF working paper on the frequency of banking crises that showed September as a huge outlier, with 24 of the 147 worldwide occurences since 1970 that the paper's authors took into account happening that month. Those results were heavily influenced by including data from the disastrous year 2008, but that did not stop doomsayers from using the very scary chart in the report to prove a point.

Frequency of Banking Crises, as Shown in IMF Working Paper

"The frequency with which the world goes to hell in September seems hardly random," Greg Ip, a blogger at The Economist, wrote in response to the paper. "Maybe it's because policymakers and bankers don't confront their problems until they get back from vacation, the macro equivalent of doctors scheduling c-sections during office hours."

Not everyone is buying the theory that this year will follow history. For example, Bill McBride, who runs the notable economics blog Calculated Risk, recently penned an entry explaining why he believes housing will cross a significant milestone in the late summer, with the year-on-year Case-Schiller Index of prices turning positive for the first time in more than six years. "At the current pace of improvement, it looks like the YoY change will turn positive in either the August or September reports." Others have adopted a more flippant attitude in the face of doom-and-gloom forecasts. A note to clients earlier this week by Art Cashin, a trading director at Swiss banking group UBS, reported on the IMF working paper and the interpretation by The Economist. Cashin's advice on how clients should take those news: "Try to enjoy your summer."

The Economy: “David Stockman, Conversations with Casey”

“David Stockman, Conversations with Casey”
"Former Congressman David A. Stockman was Reagan's OMB director, which he wrote about in his best-selling book, The Triumph of Politics. He was an original partner in the Blackstone Group, and reads LRC the first thing every morning."

The Economy: "Four Fiscal Cliffs Ahead, And A Jobs War"

"Four Fiscal Cliffs Ahead, And A Jobs War"
By Paul B. Farrell

"Election wars are masking the fiscal cliff that America is destined to drop off in early 2013, warns the Congressional Budget Office. History tells us our politicians will slowly drive America off the fiscal cliff and into a mid-1930s-style sinkhole. Why? Because no matter who’s elected, our dysfunctional government will continue to be driven by secretive super-PAC billionaires obsessed about either holding on to or regaining the presidency in 2016.

America’s fiscal cliff is actually four cliffs. And any one can easily trigger the other three. By 2013 the public will wake up to discover America is still a political war zone facing a recession no politician can solve, igniting further rage with warring politicians and their billionaire buddies. The fiscal cliff includes four dangerous cliffs:
1. The health-care cliff: Admit it, it’s a systemic failure. And repealing or tweaking Obamacare won’t stop the hemorrhaging. Costs will keep rising, no matter who’s chief.

2. The taxes/spending cliff: The CBO says that allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, combined with agreed-upon spending cuts, would reduce GDP by 1.3%. That deal is certain to get renegotiated. But until then, uncertainty, and if politicians just kick the can down the road again, new interest costs will increase the deficit, increasing long-term problems.  

3. The military budget cliff: Do nothing and the Pentagon automatically gets $55 billion cut in 2013, more over the next decade. In addition, Romney’s on record to increase military spending, even as two wars wind down. U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, has said the same.

4. The social programs cliff: Along with military cuts, the same deal negotiated last year included automatic cuts to domestic social-program spending by $492 billion over the next decade. Cuts will intensify stress on the poor and middle-class jobless.

Obviously there are global threats that could kill recovery: euro-land sinking, China slowing, emerging markets stalling. But the bottom line is that America’s at war with itself, most noticeably visible in gridlocked Washington, less visible in our billionaires’ super-PAC anarchy.
Job wars are far bigger threat than all four fiscal cliffs

The real financial cliff is measured in jobs, warns Jim Clifton, chief executive of Gallup, the polling firm, in his new book “The Coming Jobs War.” Not just in America, but all nations worldwide. Get it? The lack of jobs is a bigger threat to America than government spending, debt, the environment and terrorism. “If countries fail at creating jobs, their societies will fall apart,” warns Clifton, “experience suffering, instability, chaos, and eventually revolutions.”

Warning: The jobs war will defeat us from within. The U.S. has 8% unemployment, officially. In fact, it’s more like 20% unemployed and underemployed, 30 million. We’re outsourcing too many jobs. We need 5 million net new jobs today, 10 million during the next presidential term according to Gallup’s research. But unfortunately, our divisive politicians don’t get it. They’re not only making matters worse this year, but little will change from 2013 through 2016, no matter who’s elected president. Why? Because the secret wars of the billionaires’ super-PACs will keep running our government long after the elections, pushing off cliff after cliff after cliff. America is now an anarchy.

In fact, my guess is that whoever loses the 2012 presidential election, he and his party will be secretly relieved, because the pit after the coming fiscal cliffs are so incredibly, irrationally, absurdly deep, that little more will get done in Washington in the next four years than in the last four. In short, the jobs wars will intensify.

Racing toward the fiscal cliff reminds me of our earlier prediction of “America’s Worst Decade.” Financial historian Niall Ferguson warns in Newsweek of a “double-dip depression…We forget that the Great Depression was like a soccer match, there were two halves.” The 1929 crash kicked off the first half. But what “made the depression truly ‘great’ …began with the European banking crisis of 1931.” Likewise, our November elections will push America into the second half of a new era. But it doesn’t matter whether Romney or Obama is our quarterback, the goal posts just keep moving further away.

As Ferguson puts it: “To understand what has been happening in our own borderline depression, you need to know this history. But hardly anyone does.” Get it? He says America’s already in a “depression,” with clueless leaders and no real solutions, much as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson were clueless in 2008. Worse, no one appears able to stop our depression from turning into another Great Depression.

More bad news: Back in December 2011, the first year of this “Worst Decade in American History,” economist and longtime Forbes columnist Gary Shilling had just issued his semiannual outlook: “Global Recession Likely” for 2012. Now, in his midyear update, it’s worse: “Recent data makes that forecast more probable.”

Recapping some predictions for ‘America’s Worst Decade Ever’: A look back, then ahead: Over the past decade we predicted the 2000 crash, the 2008 meltdown, the 2009 bottom and rally. Historians like Ferguson and others already see the 2011-2020 decade developing as “America’s Worst Decade.” Yet totally predictable. And totally denied. So here’s our update of some of the economic and market predictions in a historical context that will continue unfolding for years:

2012: Billionaires solidify absolute power over our political system: In 2010, the Supreme Court legalized anonymous political bribery, turning America into a superrich anarchy. Now billions flow from billionaires to lobbyists to politicians and super-PACs with one goal: to get favors for special interests. Meanwhile, the middle class is in a rapid trickle-down to third-world status. So the inequality gap will keep widening as billionaires tighten control of state and the federal governments.

2013: Global population bubble exploding, rapidly wasting resources: America’s superrich capitalists keep siphoning trillions from the middle class. And ironically they also see the world’s population growth of roughly 100 million annually not as wasting the planet’s scarce resources, but as an expanding market for increased wealth-building, proving “more is never enough” as environmental warnings are denied.

2014: Pentagon’s global commodity wars accelerate toward 2020 peak: Near the start of the Iraq war, Fortune reported on a Pentagon report predicting “climate could change radically and fast” as “the mother of all national security issues.” And billions of new people will spread unrest worldwide as “massive droughts, turning farmland into dust bowls and forests to ashes” as world population exploded to 10 billion, with “warfare defining human life.”

2015: ‘Gilded Age’ globalization explodes America’s global empire: About the same time the Pentagon was predicting “global warfare” by 2020, former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips warned in “Wealth & Democracy” that “most great nations, at the peak of their economic power, become arrogant and wage great world wars at great cost, wasting vast resources, taking on huge debt, and ultimately burning themselves out.” Niall Ferguson made similar warnings in “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of The American Empire,” that we are in denial, thinking “about the political process in seasonal, cyclical terms.”

2016: Free-market capitalism self-destructs, crashes, bank bankruptcies: The 2016 elections may be too late to plan for what’s ahead. “What if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arrhythmic?” Ferguson asks. “What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly,” too rapid to respond in time, especially if the president keeps ignoring the lessons of history?

Wake up America. There’s a deadly time bomb ticking. You are living in “ America’s Worst Decade Ever .” Go back and read the remaining years till 2020. See why our nation and the whole world will continue deteriorating no matter who’s president, because this drama will accelerate. As politicians and billionaires continue fighting like grade-school kids at recess, they’ll keep pushing America off the four fiscal cliffs. They fight because “more really is never enough” for America’s narcissistic, obsessed, heartless free-market capitalists.

Wake up and listen to Clifton on the “Coming Jobs Wars”… to environmentalists warning “it may already be too late”... to historians warning of a “rapid collapse of the American empire”… to the Pentagon warning that by 2020 “warfare will define human life”… to a lone hedge-fund manager telling you to “think Swiss Family Robinson” as you nudge yourself closer to the fiscal cliffs."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Musical Interlude: David Gates, “Suite, Clouds & Rain”

David Gates,  “Suite, Clouds & Rain”
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUwUKi9ouEc&feature=related

The Poet: Kuroda Saburo, "I Am Completely Different"

"I Am Completely Different"

"I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same tie as yesterday,
am as poor as yesterday,
as good for nothing as yesterday,
I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same clothes,
am as drunk as yesterday,
living as clumsily as yesterday, nevertheless
I am completely different.

I patiently close my eyes
on all the grins and smirks,
on all the twisted smiles and horse laughs-
and glimpse then, inside me
one beautiful white butterfly
fluttering towards tomorrow."

- Kuroda Saburo

Musical Interlude: Karunesh, “Colors of Light”

Karunesh, “Colors of Light”
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQwwUyxhxi4&feature=related

"A Look To The Heavens"

"In the center of star-forming region 30 Doradus lies a huge cluster of the largest, hottest, most massive stars known. These stars, known collectively as star cluster R136, were captured above in visible light by the Wide Field Camera peering through the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope.
 Click image for larger size.
 Gas and dust clouds in 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, have been sculpted into elongated shapes by powerful winds and ultraviolet radiation from these hot cluster stars. The 30 Doradus Nebula lies within a neighboring galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud and is located a mere 170,000 light-years away.”

"Only Sure..."

“Do not look back on happiness or dream of it in the future. 
You are only sure of today; do not let yourself be cheated out of it.”
- Henry Ward Beecher

The Daily "Near You?"

Rock Springs, Wyoming, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"Study: Some Types Of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others"

"Study: Some Types Of Multitasking Are More Dangerous Than Others"
by The Ohio State University

"In a new study that has implications for distracted drivers, researchers found that people are better at juggling some types of multitasking than they are at others. Trying to do two visual tasks at once hurt performance in both tasks significantly more than combining a visual and an audio task, the research found. Alarmingly, though, people who tried to do two visual tasks at the same time rated their performance as better than did those who combined a visual and an audio task - even though their actual performance was worse. "Many people have this overconfidence in how well they can multitask, and our study shows that this particularly is the case when they combine two visual tasks," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. "People's perception about how well they're doing doesn't match up with how they actually perform."

Eye-tracking technology used in the study showed that people's gaze moved around much more when they had two visual tasks compared to a visual and an audio task, and they spent much less time fixated on any one task. That suggests distracted visual attention, Wang said. People in the study who had two visual tasks had to complete a pattern-matching puzzle on a computer screen while giving walking directions to another person using instant messaging (IM) software. Those who combined a visual and an audio task tried to complete the same pattern-matching task on the screen while giving voice directions using audio chat. The two multitasking scenarios used in this study can be compared to those drivers may face, Wang said.

People who try to text while they are driving are combining two mostly visual tasks, she said. People who talk on a phone while driving are combining a visual and an audio task. "They're both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eyetracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise," Wang said. "But what is surprising is that our results also suggest that people may perceive that texting is not more dangerous - they may think they can do a good job at two visual tasks at one time."

The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The study involved 32 college students who sat at computer screens. All of the students completed a matching task in which they saw two grids on the screen, each with nine cells containing random letters or numbers. They had to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the two grids were a "match" or "mismatch" by clicking a button on the screen. They were told to complete as many trials as possible within two minutes. After testing the participants on the matching task with no distractions, the researchers had the students repeat the matching task while giving walking directions to a fellow college student, "Jennifer," who they were told needed to get to an important job interview. Participants had to help "Jennifer" get to her interview within six minutes. In fact, "Jennifer" was a trained confederate experimenter. She has been trained to interact with participants in a realistic but scripted way to ensure the direction task was kept as similar as possible across all participants.

Half of the participants used instant messaging software (Google Chat) to type directions while the other half used voice chat (Google Talk with headphones and an attached microphone) to help "Jennifer" reach her destination. Results showed that multitasking, of any kind, seriously hurt performance. Participants who gave audio directions showed a 30 percent drop in visual pattern-matching performance. But those who used instant messaging did even worse - they had a 50 percent drop in pattern-matching performance. In addition, those who gave audio directions completed more steps in the directions task than did those who used IM. But when participants were asked to rate how well they did on their tasks, those who used IM gave themselves higher ratings than did those who used audio chat.

"It may be that those using IM felt more in control because they could respond when they wanted without being hurried by a voice in their ears," Wang said. "Also, processing several streams of information in the visual channel may give people the illusion of efficiency. They may perceive visual tasks as relatively effortless, which may explain the tendency to combine tasks like driving and texting." 

Eye-tracking results from the study showed that people paid much less attention to the matching task when they were multitasking, Wang said. As expected, the results were worse for those who used IM than for those who used voice chat. Overall, the percentage of eye fixations on the matching-task grids declined from 76 percent when that was the participants' only task to 33 percent during multitasking. Fixations on the grid task decreased by 53 percent for those using IM and a comparatively better 35 percent for those who used voice chat. "When people are using IM, their visual attention is split much more than when they use voice chat," she said.

These results suggest we need to teach media and multitasking literacy to young people before they start driving, Wang said. "Our results suggest many people may believe they can effectively text and drive at the same time, and we need to make sure young people know that is not true." In addition, the findings show that technology companies need to be aware of how people respond to multitasking when they are designing products.

For example, these results suggest GPS voice guidance should be preferred over image guidance because people are more effective when they combine visual with aural tasks compared to two visual tasks. "We need to design media environments that emphasize processing efficiency and activity safety. We can take advantage of the fact that we do better when we can use visual and audio components rather than two visual components," Wang said.
- http://www.sott.net/
The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Co-authors of the study were Prabu David of Washington State University, Jatin Srivastava of Ohio University and Stacie Powers, Christine Brady, Jonathan D'Angelo and Jennifer Moreland, all of Ohio State.

"How It Really Is"

"What Is To Be Done… Now?"

"What Is To Be Done… Now?"
by Andrew Levine

"In one of his final columns for "CounterPunch" (July 6-8, 2012), Alexander Cockburn gently took to task those of us, himself included, who went overboard investing hope in the Occupy movements and other spontaneous domestic uprisings of 2011. Too many of us – I among them – were so swept up by the enthusiasms of the moment that we forgot some well-established truths. As so often before, Cockburn’s words gave voice to what I along with many others had already come to realize, but was not yet ready to articulate. Now, however, there is no excuse; the time is past due to recall the basics. This was Cockburn’s point. It is therefore to his memory that I dedicate this appreciation of one of the most castigated but also one of greatest and most pertinent classics of political thought.

Nearly eleven decades have passed since the publication of V.I. Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?”  This remarkable pamphlet – actually, a short book — was a political intervention focused on issues confronting the Russian Social Democratic movement at the dawn of the twentieth century.  Much or its content is peculiar to the time and place of its composition. There is therefore a sense in which, with each passing year, it becomes increasingly anachronistic.  Even so, it is not just the pamphlet’s title question that remains timely. For although it was not intended as a theoretical treatise, it was evident from the beginning that it can be read as one and that, in that capacity, it can be enormously enlightening.

Ironically, this has never been truer than it now is, and not just in parts of the world that, like Russia in 1903, are comparatively “backward.”  The Left in the United States today, what there is of it, would do well to take on board that text’s core principles – adapted, of course, to the circumstances we nowadays confront. The most basic of those principles is that, for fundamental political change, leadership and direction is indispensable. To put the point in a way that sounds hopelessly anachronistic: insurgent masses need a revolutionary vanguard. Revolts and rebellions have always been with us, and will be so long as injustice and oppression endure. But for spontaneous outbreaks of resistance to result in real change, they cannot remain spontaneous forever.

Lenin wrote as a revolutionary addressing revolutionaries, at a time when the French Revolution was still the paradigm case. The common understanding, back then, was that revolutions – fundamental transformations of social, political and economic institutions – began with the seizure of state power by insurrectionary (violent) means. Eleven decades later, one would be hard put to imagine that sort of revolution on the agenda of any liberal democracy, much less the United States. But fundamental changes in the basic structures of societies – “regime changes,” in the literal, not the neoconservative, sense of that expression – are not out of the question, even in the United States. “A better world is possible” is not an empty slogan, notwithstanding the best efforts of the forces that shape public opinion to convey the impression that it is.

Lenin’s point was that without a revolutionary organization, shaped and informed by revolutionary theory, there can be no successful revolutionary practice. This goes for peaceful but nevertheless fundamental transformations of basic institutional arrangements, as much as for the kinds of upheavals for which “revolutionary moments” like the storming of the Bastille or the Winter Palace are emblematic. That seems right, especially in light of recent events — from the resistance early in 2011 to Republican overreach in Wisconsin and elsewhere through to the Occupy movements of last fall and winter. It seems right too in light of the trajectory of the contemporaneous Arab Spring.

The basic idea is not really peculiar to Lenin’s thinking or even to the larger traditions, Marxist and Jacobin, from which “Leninism” derives. It is a tenet of all serious efforts to think through the dynamics of fundamental change in the modern era. Why then describe it by invoking the name of an historical figure who has fallen into disfavor throughout the world? This is particularly true in the United States, where “Lenin” is a name that Americans have long been taught to revile.

One reason is that “What Is To Be Done?,” like all classic texts in political theory, conveys timely insights, notwithstanding the fact that, like all the others, it is a creature of its time and place. No classic of Western political thought is more tied to a world that is long gone than Machiavelli’s "The Prince".  Yet everyone understands that, on its authority, it is both helpful and fair to use the word “Machiavellian” to describe political figures and positions today. It is the same with “What Is To Be Done?” These and other canonical texts are historical artifacts; but that is not all that they are.

A more important reason is that how a political position is described is itself a political act. In the 1980s, as it was becoming increasingly unclear what “Marxism” is and as reactionary public intellectuals — “new philosophers” in France, neo-conservatives in the United States — did their best to bring Marxism into disrepute, and at a time when Ronald Reagan were prattling on about “evil empires” even as he wreaked murder and mayhem upon the peoples of Central America, E.P. Thompson, the great historian of the English working class, when asked if was still a Marxist, said, in effect, that in the present circumstances common decency requires that he say Yes. That is how it is today with Lenin.

Our media identifies politics with electoral contests and, to simplify (and dumb down) even more, it color codes the contestants – Democrats are blue, Republicans red. These descriptions have become part of the vernacular of our politics. It is unintentionally revealing that, in terms of the usual color names for political tendencies, where red and black and, on the other side, white and brown figure prominently, and where blue signifies nothing, that our leftmost major party has migrated so far to the right that the color our media use to designate it, to the extent we can impute a significance to it, hardly does the Democrats justice. It is even more revealing that our political discourse is by now so degraded that Republicans revel in being called red.  Either that’s how ignorant they are of history, including the history of their own redbaiting party, or else this is just a facet of life in what Gore Vidal aptly calls the United States of Amnesia.

Whichever is the case – and, since we are talking about people who long ago stopped making sense, both could be true – it is fitting to invoke the name and specter of the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, a true red, if only to irk them. And what could be more salutary than challenging the prissy self-righteousness of blue voters with a dose of real politics or, more precisely, lucid political theory. And so, in the spirit of E.P. Thompson, I would say that simple decency requires that where the designation is apt, one should use the Leninist name wherever one can. Not only is it substantively correct; better yet, it will annoy those who deserve it most.

In “What Is to Be Done?,” Lenin elaborated at length on what he took to be the ideal organizational structure and strategic posture of the vanguard party he wanted to construct.  This is what “What Is To Be Done?” is mainly known for. But, again, Lenin’s thinking on these matters, for all its attention to detail, was just a variant, suitable to local conditions, of the general idea that for fundamental change to be possible there must be an organized force dedicated to making it happen. Because the Leninist take on the idea of a political vanguard became a point of reference in intra-Marxist debates, and in debates between Marxists and anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, the Leninist variant came to be identified with the more general view. This is yet another reason for adopting the designation; it draws our ahistorical and depoliticized political discourse closer to the real history of the left.

In left circles, the term “Leninist” was sometimes prized, sometimes denigrated. Like everything else in politics, it depended on circumstances. But contestation over the name, as well as over the idea the name denoted, did lead to confusion – particularly in circumstances where activists in “spontaneist” groups (or groupuscules) claimed a Leninist identification. In the aftermath of the worldwide eruptions of 1968, this sort of confusion was rife in Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the United States.

Today, of course, debates about vanguardism seem archaic. It is tempting to say that this is because the world that gave rise to that debate no longer exists. However, this would be a big mistake. In politics, as in individual psychology, there is always the prospect of what Freud called “the return of the repressed.” That is what explains the world-shaking events of 2011. The jury is still out on what will come from those eruptions. But as Cockburn made plain, with 2012 already more than half over, it’s not looking good. Here, in the United States, with a money infused presidential election looming, a contest between two candidates few can abide much less endorse except for lesser evil reasons — and with a host of elections for lesser offices that are, for the most part, equally unpromising — the situation is especially dire.

The general problem is that the other side – Lenin would have said the capitalist side; in 2011, that designation was effectively replaced by “the one-percent” – is organized.  It has a state to do its bidding, what Marx called an “executive committee” of the entire ruling class. In these circumstances, “the ninety-nine percent” has no choice but to respond, as best it can, in kind, by doing its utmost to constitute a rival executive committee. This is a general and abstract claim – about political structures (de facto legitimate coercive institutions) in class divided societies. Actual states in capitalist societies admit of many variations on the general theme. They can be more or less responsive to the interests of some or all of the ninety-nine percent. What they cannot do, if Lenin and Marx and the thinkers they draw upon are right, is lead a process that transforms the basic economic, social and political structures they superintend.   Capitalist states can be more or less malign, but they cannot revolutionize themselves.

These days, comparatively beneficent capitalist states, the kind that still survive in much of western and northern Europe look pretty good from over here, notwithstanding the unrelenting efforts of politicians and media pundits to denigrate them. The events of 2011 were about union bargaining rights and growing inequality. Though no longer on the offensive, European social democracy and its counterparts elsewhere do well on these counts.

We did too, of course, until the late 1970s, when a series of Democratic presidents took it upon themselves to implement the “bipartisan” attack on New Deal and Great Society institutions that it is commonly associated with the name of that unjustly celebrated reactionary, Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter got it going, Reagan and his Republican acolytes (nincompoops all) believed in it, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama carried it out.  One would think Republicans would be grateful. But they are too focused on winning elections to evince normal reactions. Indeed, they are so focused on winning that it’s not even clear that they act with the best interests of their paymasters in mind. Lucky for them that the plutocrats who own them are so dense and so (short-term) greedy that they neither notice nor care!

Constitutional arrangements that assure that “we, the people” are consulted only at periodic two and four-year intervals have a role to play in the fiasco now afflicting our political culture. So too does our duopoly party system, comprised as it is of two parties equally dedicated to the interests of the one-percent. And we must not leave out the shameless way the one-percent buys political influence in contravention of democratic norms, but in accord with the law of the land as determined (“legislated”) by five right-wing Supreme Court Justices.

Even so, before our political class and their media flacks undertook to exploit anxieties generated by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ours was a (comparatively) weak state. Individuals’ lives and behaviors were generally free from intrusive state interference and there were considerable legal and customary immunities protecting free expression and political activity. This is still for the most part the case, despite the depredations of the two scofflaw presidents we have suffered under since 9/11/2001.

But our state has always been among the very strongest on earth in insuring that the powers and privileges of the one percent (or rather the fraction of the one percent who really run the show) remain immune from serious contestation. In this respect, ours has always been an unusually non-democratic democracy. And so while the need for a political vanguard – not necessarily, indeed not ideally, the kind Lenin proposed – is general, the need for something that would serve that purpose in our circumstances is particularly acute. We live in a liberal democracy with a liberal component that remains fairly robust. But, in recent years, the democratic component, never very strong, has receded almost to the vanishing point.

In these circumstances, the electoral road to change and hope – not just for a radically transformed social and economic order, but even just for a more decent order within the framework of existing social, political and economic arrangements — is more than usually out of reach. This is the real lesson of the 2008 election. Obama may be feckless, and he has certainly disappointed almost everybody who harbored any hopes for his presidency. He could have done much better. But the idea that he could begin to do what some of his supporters imagined he would was illusory from the start. One needn’t be a full-fledged Leninist to know that, but serious readers of  “What Is To Be Done?” could hardly fail to notice – or to understand why.

If the Occupy movements peter out entirely, as Cockburn thought they already have, it will illustrate Lenin’s general point. For a time, they breathed new life into spontaneism. Indeed, leaderlessness helped them along.  But they eventually reached a point where the choice was posed: make a quantum leap into the vanguardist model they rejected or fade away.  Since the former hasn’t happened and almost certainly won’t, let us hope that, as they fade into historical memory, some of the good the Occupy movements did can be turned into a useful legacy.

The failure of the resistance to the overreach of reactionary governors, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, illustrates this point too. But, although these movements, unlike the Occupy movements that followed, were only defensive, they are even more revealing. They make plain the “American exceptionalism” that makes Lenin’s general point all the more urgent for us.

The Wisconsin case is especially instructive. In more democratic democracies than ours, a spontaneous mobilization of the kind that developed there in the spring of 2011 would have forced a political crisis that would have caused the government either to back down or to fall.  Our institutions don’t allow governments to fall. At most, they allow for officials to be recalled.  In Wisconsin, for the governor and lieutenant governor that wasn’t legally possible for months after the spring uprising because, according to the state constitution, officials cannot be recalled before they have served at least a year.

And so, the spontaneous mobilization could either have escalated, which was impossible without a “revolutionary” theory and practice guiding it, or else degenerate into the usual electoral circus with a Democrat contending against the incumbent Republican governor. Once it came to that, all the usual pathologies of our electoral system kicked in.  The better to appeal to those vaunted “independents” Obama and his co-thinkers try so hard to please, Democrats went for the most anodyne of the candidates in contention. Meanwhile, Republican donors flooded Walker with money, while national Democrats (Obama most conspicuously) couldn’t even be bothered to show up. Therefore, Walker won. People power might have unseated him despite everything but, by the time it counted, the impulse had already become too degraded by the normal operations of our political institutions to save the day.

There was arguably an alternative that was mooted at the time – to reject a “political” (electoral) solution and to call instead for a general strike. That was too scary a prospect however; nobody knew what would come of it. Had it been attempted, it would certainly have divided the insurgent forces because Democrats would have done their level best to quash the effort.  Democratic legislators in Madison were worlds better than the bought and paid for ones in Obama’s Washington. They cared about public workers. Democratic state Senators even went so far as to leave the state to deny Senate Republicans a quorum, stalling Walker’s assault on union rights. But the first concern of all Democrats, even the good ones, is to sustain the powers that be. For them to support a general strike would have therefore been unthinkable. The Wisconsin case shows plainly how disabling electoral politics in the United States has become. If there is any life left in the Occupy movements, watch it too become swept up and dissipated as the 2012 election season heats up.

For those who would take the message of “What Is To Be Done?” to heart, the remedy is clear: we need to construct a leadership that is capable of making change happen when the time again arises, as it surely will. The problem now, as always, is how to get from here to there.  That was the problem Lenin addressed for his time and place. In Russia in 1903, he had to contend with a far more repressive state than we do in 2012. But with all the means the one percent now has at its disposal for shaping opinion and stifling dissent, the obstacles we face are at least as daunting. The way forward will not be easy. But we won’t get anywhere unless we try.

The Occupy movements showed that real change is possible, that the human material necessary for making it happen is there. They showed that “we, the people,” enough of us anyway, are prepared to wake up and fight back. When this happens again, as it surely will, we must be prepared. This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from “What Is To Be Done?”

Applying Lenin’s prescriptions mechanically in circumstances very different from the ones he confronted never made sense, though segments of the left went on for decades as if it did. What they ought to have done, and what we can still do, is appropriate the core principles of “What Is To Be Done?” to the conditions that actually obtain. Then the next time resistance to ruling class aggression or to the outrageous inequalities generated by present day capitalism erupts, there will at least be a chance that enduring and beneficial change will come from it – not the meretricious kind some deluded voters imagined they’d get from Obama, and not the fleeting and largely illusory kind that the Occupy movements produced in their moments of glory, but the real deal.”

Chet Raymo, “Seeing”

by Chet Raymo

"There was a moment yesterday evening when the elements conspired to evoke these few lines, spoken by Macbeth:

            "Light thickens,
    And the crow makes wing to the rooky woods,
    Good things of day begin to droop and drowse."

The fading light. The crows gliding down the fields to the trees in Ballybeg:

            "Light thickens,
    And the crow makes wing to the rooky woods,
    Good things of day begin to droop and drowse."

It's all there, in those few lines- the mysterious power of poetry to infuse the world with meaning, to anoint the world with a transforming grace. One could spend an hour picking those lines apart, syntax and sound, sense and alliteration. The t's of light thickening, tongue against the teeth. The alar w's making wing. The owl eyes of the double o's. The d's nodding into slumber - day, droop, drowse.

The poet Howard Nemerov says of poetry that it "works on the very surface of the eye, that thin, unyielding wall of liquid between mind and world, where somehow, mysteriously, the patterns formed by electrical storms assaulting the retina become things and the thought of things and the names of things and the relations supposed between thing." It works too in the mouth, in the physical act of speech - tongue, teeth, those d's gliding deeper into the darkness of the throat.

I stand in the gloaming garden and the black birds glide, down, down to Ballybeg, and I marvel that with so few syllables Shakespeare can- across the centuries- teach me how to see.”

"I Believe..."

“I believe in cultivating opposite, but complementary views of life, and I believe in meeting life's challenges with contradictory strategies. I believe in reckoning with the ultimate meaninglessness of our existence, even as we fall in love with the miracle of being alive. I believe in working passionately to make our lives count while never losing sight of our insignificance. I believe in caring deeply and being beyond caring. It is by encompassing these opposites, by being involved and vulnerable, but simultaneously transcendent and detached, that our lives are graced by resilience and joy.”
- Fritz Williams

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Musical Interlude: Genesis, “Driving The Last Spike”

Genesis, “Driving The Last Spike”
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHGqGmzzQaY

“Showing no fear of what lies up ahead,
They’ll never see the likes of us again...”

"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. Close inspection of the bulge in the above photograph shows many points of light that are actually globular clusters. 
 Click image for larger size.
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.”

"Slow Motion Great White Shark Attack"

"Slow Motion Great White Shark Attack"
By Andres Jauregui

"Although it does happen, it's not every day that you see a great white jumping out of the water. And nothing compares to watching a huge, majestic shark attack in slow motion. In this video for the Discovery Channel's "Air Jaws" series, ITM Instruments used a high-tech camera called a Phantom to capture the great white's out-of-water strike in slow motion. To get the shot, the crew trolled fake bait on a line, meaning no seals were hurt in the making of this video.

According to the ITM Instruments website, the Phantom is capable of shooting at speeds of up to 1 million frames per second. Similar cameras have been used to record other phenomena in slow motion. And speed is of the essence: the above-water attacks, called "breaches," usually last no more than one second.

Although shark attacks are rare, there have been an alarming number of them reported recently. These include a great white shark attack in Western Australia where a surfer was bitten in two, and another fatal incident in La Reunion in which a man died after his leg was bitten off. But sharks themselves face danger around the world from fishing pressure, finning and bycatch, according to the environmental advocacy group Oceana. The International Shark File estimates that 30 to 70 million sharks are killed in fisheries each year.

Even though the bait that was used in this shoot was a decoy, some YouTube commenters objected to its use, claiming that the ploy was cruel to the shark.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Victoria, Texas, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"Should You Be More Interested in Mars Than the Olympics?"

 "Should You Be More Interested in Mars Than the Olympics?"
by Andrew Kessler

“This summer, if you want the world's best story of international human triumph, you'll have to look past London (even beyond the amazing hurdlers with very popular warm-up routines). You'll have to look 200 million miles away, in fact, to discover a spectacular feat of endurance more grueling than the longest ultra-marathon. You'll have to look to Mars. Yes, the planet. And the dream team that's about to land NASA's nuclear-powered super rover called Curiosity.

This one-ton, laser-beam-blasting wonder is going to land on Mars via a "sky crane." Most of us have zero idea what it does or why it's going to Mars. That's a real shame, because the Curiosity story is a modern epic of explorers on the path to discovering a second genesis. It will be a tiny blip on our summer radar - landing somewhere between the shot put finals and the Kimye engagement rumors - before it fades away without any of us ever knowing its true brilliance.

Why won't you hear about it? Because NASA isn't going to tell us. Sure, they'll tell you a little bit - press conferences about what they discovered, an inspirational video. NASA partners will create fun websites, and bits of awesome will trickle out. But there is a larger narrative tragedy, and it's a bigger conspiracy than any tinfoil-hatted crank could come up with - a conspiracy born out of fear.

It wasn't always like that. NASA used to be great at telling exciting stories. They had us with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions and their cavalier space plans and suicidal rocket jockeys. Now, not so much. They will hide this amazing story behind a sneaky cloak of boring jargon, tricking us into thinking we shouldn't care. It took them a while to get to this place, where they're so frightened of failure that they're willing to sacrifice their greatest asset: the ability to inspire. It's a damn shame. And it's keeping you from getting more excited about what's going on in outer space than on the women's hurdling track.

When I was growing up, I loved space. Maybe you did, too. I could daydream for hours about what was going on up there. But when did it become so boring? I wondered why I stopped caring. And then I got the chance of a lifetime. I spent three months hanging out in mission control on a NASA mission to Mars. Within moments of meeting the science and engineering teams, it was obvious: There is a giant gulf between the story inside mission control and the story we hear. And we never get a chance to know these brilliant characters in one of the most fascinating human dramas of all time.

You think they're hiding aliens? Really, they're hiding interesting, passionate geeks. We get glimpses of these great characters in poorly staged press conferences that make it impossible for us to actually connect with them. Occasionally, something exciting will leak out of NASA, and everyone is shocked about how cool it is - a great little movie about a landing, for instance. But, sadly, even that is a tired trope; it's the same movie we see for every mission - they're just getting better at making it. This is not the fault of the engineers or scientists, who are working relentlessly in obscurity to do amazing things. It's their fearful bosses who rob us of our best hope for inspiring a future generation of engineers, scientists, and explorers.

Next week, while we're all watching NBC, a nuclear-powered, MINI-Cooper-sized super rover will land on Mars. We accurately guided this monster from 200 million miles away (that's 7.6 million marathons). It requires better accuracy than an Olympic golfer teeing off in London and hitting a hole-in-one in Auckland, New Zealand. It will use a laser to blast rocks, a chemical nose to sniff out the potential for life, and hundreds of other feats of near-magic. Will these discoveries lead us down a path to confirming life on other planets? Wouldn't that be a good story that might make people care about science? But telling us this story means more than just the composition of the rocks (sorry, Mars geologists). It's about the team that makes it happen.

No one producing an Olympic teaser asks, "What's the importance of 100 meters?" No, they tell us about the athletes who dedicate their lives to running the race, because dedication and triumph are what make a human running 100 meters interesting. If NBC can get us all misty-eyed about 100 meters, imagine what NASA could do with 200 million miles.

The Mars race is about human survival and understanding our place in a vast and terrifyingly beautiful universe. And the stories of its athletes (mathletes?) should be world-class, because they accomplish near-impossible tasks on a cosmic scale - the hardest sport you could ever compete in. It requires dedication and doggedness that only the most passionate people in the universe could deliver. Unfortunately, this drama plays out behind closed doors. We won't have insights into the sacrifice, scandal, discovery, divorce, hardship, and drama that it takes to work for a decade delivering a one-ton super rover to another planet. It's the biggest irony that the most junior engineer at NASA is fearless in the face of trying to send a robot to Mars, but the career bureaucrats are afraid to tell that engineer's story of failure or success.

NASA will say that they're doing the best they can and stretching their education and outreach budgets to the max. But if they hope to stay in business, they need to tell us how they're pushing the limits of humanity with over-the-top, risky-ass missions that will answer questions about who we are as a species on this planet. Don't get me wrong, I love NASA. And in spite of my annoyance that they're not trying to inspire us anymore, I'd certainly quit my bitching and fall back in love the instant they went back to being the bold, brash organization they once were. All I want is for them to confront this risk of failure and tell us a story we can follow. Teach us to love the impossibly smart and quirky members of the team who lead these expeditions. Help us make them household names, so we can celebrate their brilliance.

What better time to tell captivating stories about amazing nerds? We're trendy! There's a primetime TV show about physicists. A damaged, meth-making chemist owns the cable airwaves. Take advantage and cram the wonders of science down our throats while serving heaping stories of real, live space oddities. Our future as a nation - and a planet - full of inquisitive, thoughtful, and resourceful people depends on it.”

Paulo Coelho, “Declaration of Principles”

“Declaration of Principles”
Statutes For The Present Moment
by Paulo Coelho

"1] All human beings are different. And should do everything possible to continue to be so.

2] Each human being has been granted two courses of action: that of deed and that of contemplation. Both lead to the same place.

3] Each human being has been granted two qualities: power and gift. Power drives a person to meet his/her destiny, his gift obliges that person to share with others which is good in him/her. A human being must know when to use power, and when to use compassion.

4] Each human being has been granted a virtue: the capacity to choose. For he/she who does not use this virtue, it becomes a curse – and others will always choose for him/her.

5] Each human being has the right to two blessings, which are: the blessing to do right, and the blessing to err. In the latter case, there is always a path of learning leading to the right way.

6] Each human being has his own sexual profile, and should exercise it without guilt – provided he does not oblige others to exercise it with him/her.

7] Each human being has his own Personal Legend to be fulfilled, and this is the reason he is in the world. The Personal Legend is manifest in his enthusiasm for what she/he does.
Single paragraph – the Personal Legend may be abandoned for a certain time, provided one does not forget it and returns as soon as possible.

8] Each man has a feminine side, and each woman has a masculine side. It is necessary to use discipline with intuition, and to use intuition objectively.

9] Each human being must know two languages: the language of society and the language of the omens. The first serves for communication with others. The second serves to interpret messages from God.

10] Each human being has the right to seek out joy, joy being understood as something which makes one content – not necessarily that which makes others content.

11] Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness. And must behave like a normal person.

12] The only faults considered grave are the following: not respecting the rights of one’s neighbor, letting oneself be paralyzed by fear, feeling guilty, thinking one does not deserve the good and bad which occurs in life, and being a coward.
Paragraph 1 – we shall love our adversaries, but not make alliances with them. They are placed in our way to test our sword, and deserve the respect of our fight.
Paragraph 2 – we shall choose our adversaries, not the other way around.

12A] We hereby declare the end to the wall dividing the sacred from the profane: from now on, all is sacred.

14] Everything which is done in the present, affects the future by consequence, and the past by redemption.

15] The impossible is possible.”

"How It Really Is"

The Economy: "WTF Chart Of The Day”

"WTF Chart Of The Day”
by theburningplatform.com

“This should brighten your mood for the weekend. The average Italian has a net worth three times as much as you. I thought their country was a shambles. The average freaking Spaniard has a higher net worth than you. I guess buying crap on credit for the last three decades didn’t actually make us richer. Who da thunk it? Time to fire up the barbie mate. It’s good to be an Australian – for now.”
Click image for larger size.

The Economy: “Empirical Evidence Predicts Doom”

“Empirical Evidence Predicts Doom”
by Richard Russell

“I'm not proud. Often someone else can say "it" better than I can, and when that happens, I quote them. For example, my old friend, John Embry has this to say:

Embry: "The US government has reached a state where 40 cents of every dollar spent at the federal level is borrowed and a lot of that money has been printed. There has never been a case in history where that hasn't led to financial disaster. If you study any empirical evidence, they're in a hopeless position. They've only been able to get away with it, so far, because the US dollar is the world's reserve currency. If the United States wasn't able to print money and was trapped in the European Union, it would be a massive Spain."

Question: "So John, governments can't inflate away their debts?"

Embry: "Inflation is the easier, more expedient route to take, but I would not rule out an accident. For example, if policy makers push austerity too far, they could trigger a deflationary spiral that would be impossible to reverse. I subscribe to the Austrian theory of economics. In his book, “Human Action”, Ludwig von Mises wrote that there is no way to avoid the collapse of a credit boom- and that more credit expansion simply destroys the currency."

Musical Interlude: Yanni, “Nostalgia”

Yanni, “Nostalgia” (Live At The Acropolis)
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bNal4-amdE

Musical Interlude: Adiemus, “In Caelum Fero”

Adiemus, “In Caelum Fero”
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dc-tRfKjuQ&feature=related

Friday, July 27, 2012

"A Look to The Heavens"

“Connecting the Pipe Nebula to the colorful region near bright star Antares is a dark cloud dubbed the Dark River, flowing from the picture's left edge. Murky looking, the Dark River's appearance is caused by dust obscuring background starlight, although the dark nebula contains mostly hydrogen and molecular gas. 
 Click image for larger size.
Surrounded by dust, Antares, a red supergiant star, creates an unusual bright yellowish reflection nebula. Above it, bright blue double star Rho Ophiuchi is embedded in one of the more typical bluish reflection nebulae, while red emission nebulae are also scattered around the region. Globular star cluster M4 is just seen above and right of Antares, though it lies far behind the colorful clouds, at a distance of some 7,000 light-years. The Dark River itself is about 500 light years away. The colorful skyscape is a mosaic of telescopic images spanning nearly 10 degrees (20 Full Moons) across the sky in the constellation Scorpius.”

Chet Raymo, “Learning”

by Chet Raymo

“In the Preface to his lovely book “The Island Within”, about a wilderness island near his home on the coast of Alaska, Rick Nelson writes; "I have recorded my experiences, not as a teacher, certainly not as a thinker, but as a learner who loves his subject as deeply as he loves life itself.”

I spent most of my adult life as a "teacher," and I suppose I've done my share of "thinking," but I'd like to think that those activities were means to an end: learning. Certainly, now in retirement I don't consider myself a teacher, and I'd rather ponder someone else's thoughts than my own. These daily postings, which you are kind enough to read, are little lessons, not for you, but for myself.

It may seem strange that learning should now take preference over teaching and thinking. After all, hasn't it always been the role of elders in traditional cultures to be the repositories of wisdom. Learning is for the young. Teaching and thinking for the grey-haired set. But no. I have less confidence in the primacy of my thoughts than I did in mid-life, and no desire to proselytize. But I am curious. Curious to absorb a bit more of the wonder of the world, read one more poem, watch one more flower unfold on the sill. These daily postings are the diary of a learner.

That you visit and read gives me one more motivation to take the time to assimilate what I learn, stitching each new acquisition into the fabric of a life. For that I am grateful, and especially to all of you- whom I have never met- who comment. I learn from you.”