Thursday, March 31, 2016

Musical Interlude: Deuter, “Loving Touch”

Deuter, “Loving Touch”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Why isn't this ant a big sphere? Planetary nebula Mz3 is being cast off by a star similar to our Sun that is, surely, round. Why then would the gas that is streaming away create an ant-shaped nebula that is distinctly not round? 
Click image for larger size.
Clues might include the high 1000-kilometer per second speed of the expelled gas, the light-year long length of the structure, and the magnetism of the star visible above at the nebula's center. One possible answer is that Mz3 is hiding a second, dimmer star that orbits close in to the bright star. A competing hypothesis holds that the central star's own spin and magnetic field are channeling the gas. Since the central star appears to be so similar to our own Sun, astronomers hope that increased understanding of the history of this giant space ant can provide useful insight into the likely future of our own Sun and Earth.”


"Is there an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people? The response would be… to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened."
- Harold S. Kushner

Chet Raymo, “Knowledge and Power”

“Knowledge and Power”
by Chet Raymo

“Two paintings by the French neo-classicist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). The first is of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the chemist, sometimes called "the Father of Modern Chemistry", who I blogged about on Friday, and his wife Marie-Anne. It was painted in 1788, on the eve of the French Revolution. The second, of course, is Napoleon, pictured crossing the Alps with his army, painted in 1800, not long after Napoleon took power in France. The paintings bracket a dozen of the most tumultuous years in French history. Click to enlarge.

They also represent two great human appetites- for knowledge and for power. Each of us stakes a claim somewhere along the spectrum between the two images. The truly talented- a Lavoisier or a Napoleon- win fame and/or glory at one end or the other.

Lavoisier is shown with his laboratory equipment, much of which he designed himself for specific experiments. He holds a pen. Perhaps he is writing "Elements of Chemistry," the hugely influential text that would be published the following year, establishing modern conventions of chemical nomenclature.

The painting is dominated by Lavoisier's wife, who became his amanuensis, translating texts, preparing drawings of physio-chemical apparatus (that is presumably a portfolio of her drawings at the left), and generally making herself useful. She looms over her husband, engaging the painter with her gaze, while Lavoisier seemingly shrinks under her luminous presence at the top of the compositional pyramid. The chemist was no shrinking violet; Madame Lavoisier's prominence in the portrait surely suggests her attractiveness to the portraitist. Together, Lavoisier and his wife are portrayed as exemplars of the fussily fastidious ancien regime.

Napoleon, who apparently crossed the Alps in 1800 on a led mule, is here rendered at Napoleon's request in manly glory on a fiery steed. His eyes, like Marie-Anne's, affix the painter. His emblem is not the pen, but the sword, the haft of which is the central pivot of the composition. The words on the foreground rocks associate Bonaparte's crossing of the Alps with Hannibal and Charlemagne. The painting is pure political idolatry.

Knowing and doing. Creating knowledge and creating empires. Service to empirical truth and the marshalling of "lesser lives" for personal glory.

Lavoisier was guillotined and tossed into a common grave. Napoleon reposes today within the most pretentious tomb I have ever seen. And David? He was agile enough to survive the compounding upheavals of the Revolution. A friend and ally of Robespierre and Marat, he did nothing to obstruct the execution of Lavoisier.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Santa Rosa, New Mexico, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

“Our Evolving Language- Healing Past Hurt”

“Our Evolving Language- Healing Past Hurt”
by Madisyn Taylor, TheDailyOM

“We can create positive change by choosing not to use these words and phrases as we come across them in our vocabulary. There are many troubling phrases in our language that we use without considering their full meaning simply because they have been accepted into common knowledge. Even as our ideals progress, our language maintains some phrases from our past that no longer serve us, for example: Boys don’t cry; good child; boys will be boys; problem child; illegitimate child; and many more. While these phrases may be used without harmful intent, they are inherently negative. Children can be especially sensitive to such phrases, which may stay with them their whole lives, adversely affecting their self-image and wounding their self-esteem. We can create positive change by choosing not to use these words and phrases as we come across them in our vocabulary.

It is challenging to examine our habits in terms of the words we use to express ourselves, but it is also exciting. Language is an area where we can exercise our free will, creating positive change in the world around us by simply choosing carefully the words we use. It may seem like a small thing, but our words have a rippling effect, like a stone thrown in a pond. People naturally pick up on the way other people speak, consciously or unconsciously changing the way they speak in response. We don’t need to actively try to influence people; it happens without our even thinking about it. All we have to do is choose to be more conscious ourselves, putting to rest words and phrases that are outmoded, insensitive, or harmful. We can also exercise our creativity by creating new phrases that carry positive and loving energy to replace the old ones.

You may already have some ideas about phrases you’d like to transition out of your language, and now that you’re thinking about it you may come across many more. As you consciously decide not to use these phrases, you may feel lighter and more joyful, knowing that you have chosen to drop baggage that was handed down to you from a less conscious time. As you do so, you elevate the language for future generations who would no doubt thank you if they could.”

Midday Musical Interlude: Traveling Wilburys, “End Of The Line”

Traveling Wilburys, “End Of The Line”

Psychopathy: “My Biochemistry Made Me Do It: Confessions of a Genetic Subroutine”

"My Biochemistry Made Me Do It:
 Confessions of a Genetic Subroutine”
by Fred Reed

"Ages ago I read Hare and Cleckley on psychopaths, they then being canonical on the matter. Psychopathy tended to be somewhat vaguely defined but usually included lack of empathy, remorse, conscience, and the like. Today, it seems to be detectable. For example, say researchers, if you put a normal person on a polygraph and read him words like bread, tree, mountain, torture, dogs, and sidewalk, there will be a sharp response to “torture” but not to the neutral words. Psychopaths don’t have that response. This would seem to tie in with a lack of empathy.

Recent years have seen vast amounts of research into physical correlates of psychopathy as well as non-pathological traits of mind such as conservatism and liberalism. (Actually I’m inclined to regard both as pathological, but the demands of columnistic solemnity here prevent me from saying so.) One random example from the multitude, here. Further, men’s and women’s brains proved different. The differences are both anatomical, in size of different parts of the brain, and functional, as shown by fMRI scans.

By now this is old news, except perhaps to the general public. It seems to explain why conservatives all believe certain logically unrelated things, and liberals other logically unrelated things. For example, if you favor gun control, you very likely favor abortion, immigration, affirmative action, and sexual minorities. If you oppose gun control, your views will likely be the opposite. Political positions begin to look hard-wired.

Supporting the view, though hardly scientifically, is that in some four decades of writing columns of one sort and another, I  remember only two or three readers who said that I had changed their minds on a matter of fundamental importance (the righteousness of America’s wars, for example). Columnists are often called “opinion leaders,” but actually our function seems to be to tell our readers what they already believe in stirring prose. Opinions generally are fixed, impervious to fact.

If brain scans can detect psychopathy, or if crazed mass-murderers have distinctive patterns of neural activity, what should we do when we detect such traits? Should we detect them?

Should we routinely screen, say, students in high school? It might prevent some baffled Ritalin-head from shooting half the school. But what do we do with the kid? Put him preemptively in jail? He hasn’t done anything wrong. He might never do anything wrong. Psychopaths do enormous harm, only occasionally by outbursts of violence, but prophylactic incarceration does not fit well with our notions of how society should be run.

What if research shows that certain people have certain probabilities of antisocial behavior? Little Johnny, age thirteen, has a twenty-five percent chance, or fifty percent, or ninety percent chance of violent criminality. Do we jail him, tattoo his forehead, make him report to a parole officer? If his nature becomes public, it will keep him from being hired or, probably, getting married. If the condition is heritable, do we forbid him, or her, to reproduce?

Our legal system relies on the  fallacious notion that if a man commits armed robbery, but serves his prison sentence, he is now a normal citizen. To those in law enforcement, it is well known that career criminals are exactly that, and will continue offending until perhaps their late thirties. They commit wildly disproportionate amounts of crime, usually starting around puberty. This underlies the badly-applied three-strikes-and-you-are-out laws.

But if brain scans reveal that some prisoners are highly likely to offend again, and perhaps kill someone, what do we then do? Should we base a life sentence on what a man might do rather than on anything he has actually done? On something that he may not do?

Knowing that a person is disposed to behave undesirably, and that the condition is heritable, as twin studies so often suggest, would inevitably lead to thoughts of eugenics. The idea is in bad odor nowadays, but might be less so in the case of preventing the production of multiple Teds Bundy.

There are of course levels of eugenics. A woman who marries a smart man partly in hopes of having intelligent children is practicing eugenics. If at a sperm bank she opts for that of a physicist, she is engaging in eugenics. So are a couple who refrain from having children, having learned they the offspring would have a genetic disease. Sterilizing the feeble-minded is eugenics, as is killing them. The spread is from common practice to first-degree murder.

The implications of genetic determinism for normal people, whatever exactly that means, are considerable. I like to think that I reach my political conclusions through godlike intelligence, unimpeachable logic, and exact information,  all bathed in a rich syrup of peerless virtue. Now it turns out that I am just some mutt running a genetic program, probably written in Dartmouth Basic, not under my control. I am no autonomously enlightened than one of those lugubrious twerps at Salon.

The implications for commentators are grim. If we learn that our passionate support for capitalism, or passionate lack of support for it, is no more the product of thought than having blond hair? There go the book royalties. Webmasters could replace us with software.

Genetic determinism, or at any rate predisposition, can have detonative consequences. If the conservative’s tendency toward paranoia and truculent tribalism (as distinguished from the liberal’s characteristic googooing inattention to realty) is innate, we will have wars as long as we have generals. (It would be interesting to do brain scans of four-star generals. I recommend Xanax and a double Scotch before looking at the results.)

The Pentagon is notorious for finding existential threats to the United States everywhere: In Ukraine, in the South China Sea, in Syria, under the bed. Commies, terrorists, Chinamen, Islam, Russia and, off the record, Jews. Since their expressions of concern usually precede the cry, “Send money,” it is easy to dismiss their alarums as budgetary pretexts. But if soldiers are hard-wired to seek wars, what then? Their military decisions will be no more rational that a pit bull’s to bite.

And of course under brain-scan determinism there would be fruitful fields for abuse. A Democratic congress would find all Republicans to be potential serial killers and institutionalize them to promote public safety, probably after a forethoughtful sterilization. (Pondering the Senate Armed Services Committee, I can see the attraction of the idea. But that way lies fascism.) (Still...)

I need a Xanax. And a double Scotch.”

"How It Really Is: Arizonastan"

Arizonastan. I live here. Any questions? 

Politics: “The Battle To Keep The Establishment In Power”

“The Battle To Keep The Establishment In Power”
by Marin Armsrong

“The last time a Republican Presidential Convention opened without a decided nominee in the primaries was 1976, during the fight between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. There were past efforts by the establishment to stop two people they regarded as outsiders — Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1976.

It looks as if it will be much more difficult for Trump to nail down enough delegates to beat the Republicans at their own corrupt rules. We are likely heading toward a rigged convention and this is playing into the hands of the precise thing the Republicans better not do. They are sacrificing the nation for personal perks. It is not that Trump is the savior, hardly, but at least he would be a check against these people.

It seems more likely than not that they will rig the game one way or another to stop Trump and ignore why people are even voting for him, because it is really a vote against the establishment. This appears likely to explode in total chaos for 2018, and as we look into the 2017-2020 time period, it appears that they will destroy the public confidence in government on a wholesale basis.

As it now stands, they will most likely hand the nomination to Cruz one way or another. Trump’s only chance would be to run to the Libertarian Party since there would be no time left to get on all the ballots as an independent. Cruz would lose against Hillary and Hillary will destroy the economy with massive tax increases while protecting the banks.

It appears we are indeed sowing the seed of our own destruction. The Republicans know Social Security goes negative in 2017, so they want to blame Hillary. Meanwhile, Trump shoots himself in the foot all the time and the media is in a full-blown assault against him. This is likely to undermine the entire confidence in government especially since Cruz came out and said he would not support Trump, only himself.”
Same as it ever was...
"Anyone who has lived here for long enough has seen it all before: opposing sides of the political spectrum ferociously criticizing each other, getting hot under the collar about this and that, bringing up all sorts of allegations and innuendos. Then just as it looks as if the argument is about to get physical, harmony breaks out. A dialogue is opened, an accord or a compromise is found. And suddenly, just as quickly as it came, all that fiery rhetoric subsides and everyone realizes it was all synthetic, put on for show when all along some deal was imminent anyway. It's as if every politician is merely an actor in a little theatre, and as soon as the curtain falls and the public can't see them any more they all slap each other on the back, tot up the takings and go out for an expensive meal."
- Tobias Jones

The Economy: “Global Economic Collapse: 5 Places Not to Be In 2016”

“You can ignore reality, 
but you cannot ignore the consequences of reality.”
- Ayn Rand

Highly recommended:
Israeli News, “Why US Dollar= Global Toilet Paper“
Dayly News, “Global Economic Collapse: 5 Places Not to Be In 2016”

The Economy: "Tribute to the Jackass Money System"

"Tribute to the Jackass Money System"
by Bill Bonner

BALTIMORE – "Finance or politics? We don’t know which is jollier. The Republican presidential primary and Fed monetary policies seem to compete for headlines. Which can be most absurd? Which can be most outrageous? Which can get more page views? Politics, led by Donald J. Trump, was clearly in the lead… until yesterday. Then, the money world, with Janet L. Yellen wearing the yellow jersey, spurted ahead in the Hilarity Run. The Dow gained 83 points.

A Witless Tool of the Deep State? “Cautious Yellen drives global stocks near 2016 peak,” reported a Reuters headline. The story itself was a remarkable tribute to the whole jackass money system. At first glance, “cautious Yellen” would seem incongruous with stocks rising to “near 2016 peak.” Caution normally means playing it cool, not encouraging speculation. But it wasn’t so much what Ms. Yellen said that sent stocks racing ahead. It was what she hasn't done. And she hasn't done exactly what we thought she wouldn’t do. That is, so far this year, she has not taken a single step in the direction of a “normal” monetary policy; our guess is that she never will.

Why not? Is it because she is a witless tool of Deep State cronies? Is it because her economic theory is silly, superficial, and simpleminded? Or is it because she and her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, have done so much damage to the normal world that there is nothing to go back to? They have burned our bridges… our factories… our savings… and everything else behind them. Now, it is better just to pack up, move out… and keep on going. That is more or less what Charlie Munger sees coming.

Prepare for the Worst: Asked whether the Fed would reduce its balance sheet to pre-Great Recession levels (by selling back to the private sector the $4 trillion worth of bonds it bought over the last eight years), Warren Buffett’s long-time business partner had this to say: "I remember coffee for 5 cents and brand new automobiles for $600. The value of money will continue to go down. Over the past 50 years, we lived through the best time of human history. It is likely to get worse. I recommend you prepare for worse because pleasant surprises are easy to handle." The “normal” financial world is no longer habitable. 

Ms. Yellen went on to say that these soupçons of recklessness – her hints about not returning to normal – provided an “automatic stabilizer,” to the global financial system. That’s right. (And here is where we begin to laugh uncontrollably.) Not only does outrageously easy credit help “stabilize” the system, so does the anticipation of more of it! Maybe giving out the news that she will NOT even try to get back to normal helps to settle investors’ nerves. Maybe normal wasn’t all that great anyway. 

Either way, speculators can continue whatever perverted hustles they have going… free from the fear that “normal” will walk around the corner and catch them in the act. But what’s this? A complicating factor, the “outlook for inflation,” is “uncertain,” says Ms. Yellen. The Financial Times clarifies: “Inflation could take longer to return to the Fed’s 2% target.”

Ms. Yellen is worried about a lack of inflation in much the same way primitive farmers worried about a lack of rain. Her response is to do more of the ritual dances… and say more of the magic incantations… that have so far only produced more drought conditions.

A Quarter Century of Voodoo: In Japan, they’ve been doing this voodoo for 26 years. We’ve had our eye on Japan since the mid-‘80s, when everyone was sure that Japan Inc. was the hottest thing in the econosphere. The miracle economy blew up in 1989, and liquidity disappeared. Since then, Japan Inc. has been the Sahara of the developed world. QE, ZIRP, NIRP, monumental deficits, Abe’s Arrows… nothing worked to make it rain. 

Negative interest rates, announced late last year, were supposed do the job. Savers were supposed to throw up their hands, open up their wallets… and spend, spend, spend to avoid paying the tax on saving. Instead, savers saved more. What else could they do? With negative rates they needed more savings to get the same financial bang per buck. Result: In January, Japan’s retail sales fell 2.3% over the previous month.

But the Japanese feds aren’t giving up. And now they turn to two of the world’s most celebrated witchdoctors – Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz – for advice on what to do next. Japan has famously run huge fiscal deficits in an effort to get the economy moving. Thanks to a quarter century of these loose budgets, the island now has gross government debt equal to 240% of GDP and nearly nine times tax revenues. Most of the spending is used to fund programs for old people – health care and pensions – making it hard to cut back. Japan’s government finances are nothing more than a huge, compulsory, unfunded, old-age benefit program… one that is sure to go broke. 

But don’t worry, Japan. According to the Financial Times, the two Nobel Laureates went to Tokyo and argued – if you can believe it – that Japan needs more liquidity, that is, “a looser fiscal policy.” Yes, like New Orleans needed a shower after Hurricane Katrina."

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Fantastic shapes lurk in clouds of glowing gas in the giant star forming region NGC 6188. The emission nebula is found about 4,000 light years away near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara. Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. 
Click image for larger size.
The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas, visible toward the lower right, is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region's massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164's striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star near the bottom edge. The impressively wide field of view spans over 3 degrees (six full Moons), corresponding to over 200 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188. Three image sets have been included in the featured composite.”

“Learning from the Big Picture: Cycle of Life”

“Learning from the Big Picture: Cycle of Life”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“While we are on earth we are all human beings in different phases of our lives and soul development. As we walk through the world, the people we encounter appear so different from one another. We see babies, old men, pregnant women, and teenaged boys. We know couples on the verge of marriage and lonely widows. We interact with toddlers and the terminally ill. As different as each person seems, they are all living the human experience. They are just at different places in the cycle that begins with birth and ends with death. Every phase of the cycle of life has its gifts and its challenges. Each stage is temporary and ultimately gives way to a new phase. This ephemeral quality makes each phase precious, because it will never last.

One of the wonderful qualities possessed by babies and young children is that they are unaware that a cycle of life even exists. They simply are present to wherever they happen to be right now, and they don’t give much thought to the past or future.  Being around them reminds us of the joy that comes from living fully in the moment. On the opposite end of life’s cycle are our elderly role models. They are a reminder that each phase of life should be treasured. Time does pass, and we all change and grow older.

Being aware of the cycle of life and our place in it makes us wiser. As we develop a true appreciation for the phase we are in, we can savor it more. A new mother going through a difficult time with her infant can more easily embrace her challenges because she knows that her child will grow up, and she will long for this time again.  Difficult and challenging periods are inevitable, but – like everything that is a part of the cycle of life – they are temporary. When we are fully engaged with life, we get to savor and grow from each phase, and we are ready for the next one when it arrives. Fully embracing wherever you are in the cycle of life is the very essence to happiness.”

Chet Raymo, “In A Dark Time...”

“In A Dark Time...”
by Chet Raymo

“I've quoted a few of these lines before, from a poem by Charles Simic:

"It's like fishing in the dark.
Our thoughts are the hooks,
Our heart the raw bait.
We cast the line past all believing
Into the night sky
Until it's lost to sight."

In a sense, that's the story of my life: a long love affair with the night sky. My first book of popular science was “365 Starry Nights”. My first book of personal prose was “The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage”. “An Intimate Look at the Night Sky” followed much later, but every book in between, fiction and non-fiction, cast a line into the night sky.

What is it about the starry night that gives rise so effectively to what might be called the "religious instinct"? The dark, precisely. The unplumbable depth. The hiddenness. The silence. The infinity. The abyss of time. I can calculate the number of thimblefuls of water in the sea, but I have no way of knowing how many galaxies there are in the universe, or whether the universe is finite or infinite, or even how many universes might exist. Or where the universe came from. Or where it's going.

I stand barefoot on the terrace in the dark of night, and looking is a kind of prayer. A prayer without words. Without supplication. A silent acknowledgement of ignorance. Heartfelt ignorance. An ignorance that is a receptacle aching to be filled.

"My heart the bait."

The dark night of the soul. The starlit valley of shadow. The knowing that unknows. There, just there, hanging between Cassiopeia and Perseus, the barely visible blur of the double cluster, the rent veil of the temple.

“The line's long unraveling
Rising in our throats like a sigh.”

The Daily "Near You?"

Cardiff, United Kingdom. Thanks for stopping by.

"What They Long For..."

“Caged birds accept each other but flight is what they long for.”
- Tennessee Williams, “Camino Real”

“Depressing Survey Results Show How Extremely Stupid America Has Become”

“Depressing Survey Results Show How 
Extremely Stupid America Has Become”
by Michael Snyder

“Ten years ago, a major Hollywood film entitled “Idiocracy” was released, and it was an excellent metaphor for what would happen to America over the course of the next decade. In the movie, an “average American” wakes up 500 years in the future only to discover that he is the most intelligent person by far in the “dumbed down” society that he suddenly finds himself in. Sadly, I truly believe that if people of average intellect from the 1950s and 1960s were transported to 2016, they would likely be considered mental giants compared to the rest of us. We have a country where criminals are being paid $1000 a month not to shoot people, and the highest paid public employee in more than half the states is a football coach. Hardly anyone takes time to read a book anymore, and yet the average American spends 302 minutes a day watching television. 75 percent of our young adults cannot find Israel on a map of the Middle East, but they sure know how to find smut on the Internet. It may be hard to believe, but there are more than 4 million adult websites on the Internet today, and they get more traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined.

What in the world has happened to us? How is it possible that we have become so stupid? According to a brand new report that was recently released, almost 10 percent of our college graduates believe that Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni publishes occasional reports on what college students know.

Nearly 10 percent of the college graduates surveyed thought Judith Sheindlin, TV’s “Judge Judy,” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Less than 20 percent of the college graduates knew the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. More than a quarter of the college graduates did not know Franklin D. Roosevelt was president during World War II; one-third did not know he was the president who spearheaded the New Deal.

It can be tempting to laugh at numbers like these until you realize that survey after survey has come up with similar results. Just consider what Newsweek found a few years ago: "When NEWSWEEK recently asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president.Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar."

Even worse were the extremely depressing results of a study conducted a few years ago by Common Core:

• Only 43 percent of all U.S. high school students knew that the Civil War was fought some time between 1850 and 1900.
• More than a quarter of all U.S. high school students thought that Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean after the year 1750.
• Approximately a third of all U.S. high school students did not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
• Only 60 percent of all U.S. students knew that World War I was fought some time between 1900 and 1950.

Of course survey results can be skewed, and much hinges on how the questions are asked. However, even studies that are scientifically conducted confirm how stupid America has become. In fact, a report from the Educational Testing Service found that Americans are falling way behind much of the rest of the industrialized world. The following comes from CBS News: "Americans born after 1980 are lagging their peers in countries ranging from Australia to Estonia, according to a new report from researchers at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The study looked at scores for literacy and numeracy from a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which tested the abilities of people in 22 countries.

The results are sobering, with dire implications for America. It hints that students may be falling behind not only in their early educational years but at the college level. Even though more Americans between the ages of 20 to 34 are achieving higher levels of education, they’re still falling behind their cohorts in other countries. In Japan, Finland and the Netherlands, young adults with only a high school degree scored on par with American Millennials holding four-year college degrees, the report said.

Out of 22 countries that were part of the study, the Educational Testing Service found that Americans were dead last in tech proficiency, dead last in numeracy and only two countries performed worse than us when it came to literacy proficiency…Half of American Millennials score below the minimum standard of literacy proficiency. Only two countries scored worse by that measure: Italy (60 percent) and Spain (59 percent). The results were even worse for numeracy, with almost two-thirds of American Millennials failing to meet the minimum standard for understanding and working with numbers. That placed U.S. Millennials dead last for numeracy among the study’s 22 developed countries."

So why has this happened? Why have we become such an extremely stupid nation? Well, at least a portion of the blame must be directed at our system of education.  The following is an excerpt from an article written by reporter Mark Morford. In this article, he shared how one of his friends which had served for a very long time as a high school teacher in Oakland, California was considering moving out of the country when he retired due to the relentless “dumb-ification of the American brain”: "It’s gotten so bad that, as my friend nears retirement, he says he is very seriously considering moving out of the country so as to escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years due to the absolutely irrefutable destruction, the shocking- and nearly hopeless-  dumb-ification of the American brain. It is just that bad. Now, you may think he’s merely a curmudgeon, a tired old teacher who stopped caring long ago. Not true. Teaching is his life. He says he loves his students, loves education and learning and watching young minds awaken. Problem is, he is seeing much less of it."

And of course things don’t get much better when it comes to our college students. In a previous article, I shared some statistics from USA Today about the rapidly declining state of college education in the United States:

• “After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.”
• “Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago”
• “35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone.”
• “50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages”
• “32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

I spent eight years studying at some of the finest public universities in the country, and I can tell you from personal experience that even our most challenging college courses have been pathetically dumbed down. And at our “less than finest” public universities, the level of education can be something of a bad joke. In another previous article, I shared some examples of actual courses that have been taught at U.S. universities in recent years:

Could you imagine getting actual college credit for a course entitled “What If Harry Potter Is Real?” This is why many of our college graduates can barely put two sentences together. They aren’t being challenged, and the quality of the education most of them are receiving is incredibly poor. But even though they aren’t being challenged, students are taking longer to get through college than ever. Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of all full-time students receive a bachelor’s degree within four years, and only 77 percent of all full-time students have earned a bachelor’s degree by the end of six years.

Of course our system of education is not entirely to blame. The truth is that young Americans spend far more time consuming media than they do hitting the books, and what passes for “entertainment” these days is rapidly turning their brains to mush. According to a report put out by Nielsen, this is how much time the average American spends consuming media on various devices each day:

• Watching live television: 4 hours, 32 minutes
• Watching time-shifted television: 30 minutes
• Listening to the radio: 2 hours, 44 minutes
• Using a smartphone: 1 hour, 33 minutes
• Using Internet on a computer: 1 hour, 6 minutes

When you add it all up, the average American spends more than 10 hours a day plugged into some form of media. And if you allow anyone to pump “programming” into your mind for 10 hours a day, it is going to have a dramatic impact. In the end, I truly believe that we all greatly underestimate the influence that the mainstream media has on all of us. We willingly plug into “the Matrix” for endless hours, but then somehow we still expect “to think for ourselves”.

There are very few of us that can say that we have not been exposed to thousands upon thousands of hours of conditioning. And all of that garbage can make it very, very difficult to think clearly. It is not because of a lack of input that we have become so stupid as a society. The big problem is what we are putting into our minds. If we continue to put garbage in, we are going to continue to get garbage out, and that is the cold, hard reality of the matter."
"We are so freakin' doomed!"
- The Mogambo Guru

"How It Really Is"

The Economy: “Janet Yellen: You’re No Paul Volcker”

“Janet Yellen: You’re No Paul Volcker”
by Bill Bonner

BALTIMORE – "During our lifetime, three Fed chiefs have faced a similar challenge. Each occupied the chairman’s seat at a time when “normalization” of interest rates was in order. Yesterday, we remembered William McChesney Martin, head of the U.S. Fed under the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. Today, we compare Martin with two of his successors, Mr. Paul Volcker and Ms. Janet Yellen. We allow you to draw your own conclusion.

Leaning Into the Wind: In 1951, the Fed and the Treasury clashed over “normalizing” interest rate policy after almost 10 years of tight control. In 1942, after the U.S. entered World War II, and at the request of the Treasury, the Fed pegged interest rates at a low level to make it easier for the government to finance the war. Come peacetime, it had to finesse a return to market-set rates.

Of course, the Fed can never fully shirk its responsibilities or ignore its influence. Its voting committee, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), has the ultimate say on setting short-term rates. But its hand on the controls can be heavy… or light. It can allow the market to express itself. Or it can shut the market up and do the talking itself. 

After the troops came home, Martin developed two metaphors to describe his views on central banking. The first was that the central bank should neither set rates high nor low, but instead “lean into the wind.” The idea was to moderate market forces by exerting a little countercyclical pressure. If the economy were running hot, the central bank would maintain its funds rate a little higher than usual. If the economy were cooling off, it would aim for a slightly lower rate. 

That brings us to the second of Martin’s metaphors. The job of the Fed, he said, was to “take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” In other words, raise interest rates just when the economy starts to enter an unsustainable boom.

Times Change: Mr. Martin was not necessarily less intelligent than those who succeeded him. But times change. Fashions evolve. Today, Truman’s appointee as Fed chief might as well be wearing spats. In February 1951, the annual consumer price index, or CPI – the most common measure of inflation – was running at almost 8% a year. President Truman summoned the entire FOMC to the White House – with Martin as the principal negotiator – to extract a pledge from them to keep interest rates pegged at low levels. But the Fed dug its heels in and refused to “maintain the existing situation.” Martin then announced that he would allow interest rates to rise. And rise they did. From just under 1% when Martin took over as Fed chief, short-term rates stood at almost 4% at the start of the 1960s.

Frontal Assault: The next challenge came at the end of the 1970s. Paul Volcker, appointed by Jimmy Carter, was the man for the job. When Volcker took over the Fed, in August 1979, short-term rates and the CPI were somewhere north of 11%. And he aimed to bring both down to more normal levels. But then as now, inflation had its friends. And everyone knew that bringing it under control would be painful. 

In 1980, Mr. Volcker spoke directly to the challenge: “After decades of inflation, many of us, more or less comfortably, have adapted our business and personal lives to the prospect of more inflation. We count on capital gains from inflating house and land values as a substitute for real savings. We assume our competitors will match our aggressive pricing policies, and will also accede to high wage demands. We take comfort in our purchases of precious metals, art, and more exotic "collectibles" – or envy those who did buy – and are tempted to project essentially speculative price movements into the great beyond. But none of this sense of accommodation to inflation can be a valid excuse for not acting to deal with the disease.”

Getting inflation under control meant taking away not only the punch bowl, but also the entire buffet and open bar of money and credit on which the markets feasted. But Volcker did not back away. He said what he meant and meant what he said. In June 1981, he dosed the economy with a 19.1% federal funds rate; in a few months, the fever was broken.

No Return to Normal: And now, we have Ms. Janet Yellen at the Fed’s helm, her firm grip on the wheel… her steely eye on the horizon. The situation is nothing like that which Mr. Volcker faced. Instead of a CPI in double-digits, today, the Fed is worried that consumer prices are not going up fast enough. “An important concern about persistently low inflation,” is how Fed governor Lael Brainard described what was disturbing her sleep. And $7 trillion of developed-country government debt now trades at yields below zero – providing governments around the world with free money. Getting back to normal is never easy, especially when you don’t want to get there. 

On March 27, 2015, Ms. Yellen spoke to her challenge. “Normalizing Monetary Policy: Prospects and Perspectives” was the title of her speech. But both the content and the consequences were very different from those of either Mr. Volcker or Mr. Martin. Where Mr. Martin had insisted that dictating interest rates was “inconsistent with… a private enterprise system,” Ms. Yellen saw no inconsistency at all. Where Mr. Martin saw the need in a great emergency – World War II – to depart from market-set interest rates, Ms. Yellen is ready to leave the market behind at the drop of the Dow. And where Mr. Martin and Mr. Volcker both went resolutely about their work, Ms. Yellen seems unsure. 

A year ago, she said she would normalize rates “only gradually”… and that, although she had the “macro-prudential regulatory and supervisory tools” to do the job, investors should not expect miracles. Nor did they receive any. In the 12 months that have gone by since her speech, only 25 basis points (even sparrows refuse to bend to pick up such trivial morsels) is the total of her niggardly gift to savers. As for “normal”… it is still nowhere in sight.”

"The Reality Of Life..."

"Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
- Malcolm X

Health: "Sepsis Awareness: Patty Duke’s Death Announcement Is A Milestone"

"Sepsis Awareness: 
Patty Duke’s Death Announcement Is A Milestone" 
by Anna Almendrala

"Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke, star of “The Patty Duke Show” and the Broadway play and film “The Miracle Worker,” died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine on Tuesday. Simple though it may seem, her death announcement is a major milestone for the sepsis awareness movement, said Thomas Heymann, executive director of the Sepsis Alliance. The more people are aware of this condition, Heymann said, the stronger their likelihood of saving their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. “The fact that they said Patty Duke’s cause of death was sepsis is relatively new,” Heymann said. “It very often would have been left as a complication of surgery or an infection, but it’s not a complication — it’s sepsis.”

Sepsis, a reaction to infection that leads to systemic organ failure, kills more than 258,000 Americans every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the ninth-leading cause of disease-related deaths in the country. While most people can fully recover from sepsis, some survivors are left with permanent organ damage or missing limbs due to amputation. 

Despite these alarming facts, less than half of Americans have even heard of sepsis, according to polls conducted by the Sepsis Alliance in partnership with official polling companies. In a 2015 online survey of 2,000 participants, only 47 percent of Americans were aware of sepsis. Meanwhile, 86 percent knew about Ebola and 76 percent knew about malaria — two diseases that are much rarer in the United States.

People who have sepsis experience organ dysfunction caused by their body’s overreaction to an initial infection, whether viral, bacterial or fungal. This overreaction is overwhelming for the body, and can lead to death. It’s most common in people with compromised immune systems, like the very young, the very old and those with chronic diseases like AIDS, cancer, or diabetes. But people can also develop sepsis from a simple scrape, wound or burn that was not properly cleaned.

Sepsis is also on the rise: It was the primary or secondary cause of 1.6 million hospitalizations in 2009, more than double the sepsis-related hospitalizations in 1993, according to a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. And it was the single most expensive reason for hospitalizations in 2009, adding up to nearly $15.4 billion in hospital costs.

Sepsis can hide in plain sight: In one highly publicized, tragic story, a 12-year-old boy named Rory Staunton scraped his arm while playing with friends in 2012 and eventually began vomiting and complaining of pain in his leg. Doctors sent him home with Tylenol, but three days later he died from severe septic shock. Rory’s case highlights a major difficulty doctors face: Sepsis symptoms can be hard to discern from those of a simple infection that could go away on its own. 

What’s more, sepsis is often thought of as a hospital-acquired infection, making doctors more likely to look for it among hospital patients and the chronically ill. But about two-thirds of cases are first documented by the emergency department, which means that they were acquired outside of a hospital setting, explains Dr. Craig Coopersmith, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and the former president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

To avoid deaths by sepsis, Coopersmith has two basic rules for physicians: If a person has an infection, check for organ dysfunction. And if they have organ dysfunction, check for sepsis. Context also counts for a lot when spotting the signs of sepsis. In addition to symptoms such as high fever, elevated heart rate, or abnormal white blood cell count, a medical history of pneumonia, infection, wounds or urinary tract infections could provide important clues for health care providers, notes a sepsis review published in the journal Nursing Practice. Other clues, like a patient’s cancer and chemotherapy history — known factors that can suppress the immune system — are stronger clues that an infection could actually be sepsis, notes ABC News.  

You could save your own life, simply by knowing what sepsis is. The signs of sepsis can be broken down in a simple acronym, notes the CDC:

S - Shivering, fever, or feeling very cold
E - Extreme pain or general discomfort, as in “worst ever”
P - Pale or discolored skin
S - Sleepy, difficult to wake up or confused
I - “I feel like I might die”
S - Shortness of breath

Once spotted, doctors treat sepsis by addressing the initial infection, supporting the body’s organs and preventing drops in blood pressure and oxygen levels. But time is of the essence when it comes to sepsis treatment. A 2006 study analyzing over 2,000 septic patients found that over six hours, each hour of a delay in treatment was linked to a 7.6 percent decrease in survival, but treatment within the first hour of a documented drop in blood pressure, a tell-tale sign of sepsis, was linked to an 80 percent survival rate. 

Because of this, if you suspect you have sepsis — perhaps after a surgery, or because of a prior infection or wound that isn’t healing well — it’s important to actually say the word “sepsis” to your doctors, the CDC says. They advise patients to say, “I am concerned about sepsis,” in order to get the most timely treatment possible for a potential infection complication. Your life could depend on it, says Coopersmith. “If you get sepsis, you have a higher chance of dying than if you have a heart attack, stroke or trauma,” Coopersmith said. “There is no question that increasing awareness of sepsis would save lives.”

Politics: “Voters’ Unfavorable View of Clinton Warns Democrats of Trouble Ahead”

“Voters’ Unfavorable View of Clinton Warns Democrats of Trouble Ahead”
by Lori Hansen Riegle

“Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, is viewed unfavorably by a significant majority of voters. In the latest CBS/New York Times poll, Clinton has an unfavorable rating of 52 percent, almost as high as Trump’s 57 percent. For both Clinton and Trump, these are historically high negatives for presidential candidates since CBS first polled this question in 1984. Other polls and exit polling have consistently shown that the voters don’t find Clinton trustworthy or honest. This voter distrust also shows up in the polling data when she is matched against the Republican presidential candidates.

In contrast, Bernie Sanders scores higher than any other candidate - Democrat or Republican - on these measures of trustworthiness and honesty. Sanders also receives far more support from Independents than does Clinton. As a result, national polls, such as the CBS/New York Times poll, now show Sanders running much stronger against Trump and all the other Republican candidates than does Clinton. This most recent poll indicated Sanders beating Trump 53 - 38, while Clinton’s margin is smaller at 50 - 40.

A Quinnipiac national poll released on March 23 reported Sanders beating Trump 52 - 38, while Clinton’s lead is under 50 percent at 46 - 40. The Quinnipiac poll has Clinton’s unfavorable percentage at 56 and Trump’s as 61, while Sanders’ unfavorable is 37.

Republicans have indicated concern about how front-runner Trump is viewed by the voting public. Likewise, the voters are sending clear signals that Clinton may jeopardize the Democrats ability to win in the general election - making her a weaker candidate than Sanders would be in November.

In addition to the public’s mistrust related to Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while Secretary of State, the public is rightfully concerned about the $21.6 million Hillary Clinton took during 2013-2015 in speaking fees from Goldman-Sachs, and other Wall Street firms and special interest groups. When asked to release the transcripts of those speeches, Clinton deflects by saying every candidate should have to release transcripts of paid speeches. That dodge does not fool anyone, however, and raises more concern that there is something in those speeches that she clearly does not want the public to see.

The eventual Democratic candidate for President in 2016 must be viewed as trustworthy and honest by a strong majority of the voting public if the Democrats are to retain the White House. Clinton has an obligation to do everything she can to reassure the public that no time bombs are hidden in the transcripts of her paid speaking remarks - that she refuses to disclose.

We know the transcripts exist - Clinton herself required a transcript to be made and paid for by each speech sponsor - and then required that the only transcript copy be turned over to her. It is not a question of whether the transcripts exist - they do. The only question is whether she will release them for the public - as she should.

CNN has reported that the Clintons together have taken $153 million in speaking fees since 2001 - 15 percent of a billion dollars. The most effective way for Clinton to improve her trustworthiness and honesty standings with the voting public is for her to take the following actions on these speaking fees:

• Release the transcripts and contracts for the Goldman-Sachs, other Wall Street firms and special interest group speeches. The voters should know before the Democratic nomination is settled what Clinton actually said to earn as much as $300,000 for an hour speech. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, through the Nevada state public records law, obtained a copy of the Clinton contract for a UNLV Foundation October 2014 speech. The contract stipulated that a transcriber was to be provided and paid for, with the only transcript copy provided solely to Clinton herself. The contract also specified many other details, including the type of private airplane to provide transportation, a presidential suite in the hotel, and expenses for at least four aides who would be part of her traveling party. The contract and transcript for this and every other paid speech should be released to the public.

• Disclose all speech payments made to former President Bill Clinton since he left office. The country has never faced the possibility of having a former President in the White House while his spouse serves as President, and who previously served as Secretary of State. Full disclosure of speaking fees would make it clear that no potential conflicts of interest exist as a result of payments made to him.

• Disclose all Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global initiative contributions from foreign governments, Wall Street firms, corporations, special interests, other foundations, and individuals. Although some disclosure has been made of contributions, the public deserves full disclosure of the facts — exact contribution amounts and dates on which contributions were made. These details are needed in order to determine that there are no conflicts of interest with the timing of State Department actions made during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, as was required by the White House when Hillary Clinton was appointed. 

A specific example is the $2.5 million former President Clinton took in speaking fees from corporations and trade groups that were lobbying the State Department near the time when the speaking fees were paid to him, as reported by the International Business Times.

• Disclosure of the information noted above, would provide the public with the information needed to determine that there is no reason to be concerned about what Hillary Clinton said to Goldman-Sachs and other Wall Street and special interest groups. The information would make it clear that there are no hidden conflicts of interest that might be revealed during the course of what is sure to be a very hard-fought general election campaign. It would reassure the voters that Clinton is worthy of public trust and will be an honest representative of their interests.

Leadership requires one to take responsibility for one’s actions and have a forth right dialogue with the public the candidate is seeking to lead. Hillary Clinton can only demonstrate this leadership by taking responsibility — and fully disclosing the facts related to the vast amounts of special interest money that she and the Clinton family have taken personally and for their foundations.”

"Grassley hits back at Clinton: 'The FBI's going to question her.'"

"Second Judge Grants Discovery in Clinton Email Lawsuit"

Fukushima Update: “’Mind Blowing’: Die-off In Pacific Far Worse Than Anything Ever Seen Before”

“’Mind Blowing’: 
Die-off In Pacific Far Worse Than Anything Ever Seen Before”
By ENENews  

"AP, Mar 24, 2016: Alaska’s massive seabird die-off spreads. Federal biologists last week walked Katmai National Park and counted 2,000 dead seabirds. “That's only a hint of what probably was there. Every beach we looked at had dead birds,” US Fish & Wildlife Service's Robb Kaler said. “If we had rakes we would have found a lot more,” said retired USGS biologist Tony DeGange. Officials surveyed the area] in 2009 and 2012 and counted zero and 14 common murres. Last week they counted hundreds.

AP, Mar 24, 2016: Seabird die-off takes twist. Thousands of common murres were found dead in an Alaskan lake. Experts were puzzled. “We’ve talked about unprecedented things about this die off. That’s another one,” said USGS biologist John Piatt. “6,000, 8,000 birds in the lake is pretty mind-blowing, really. I’ve never heard of any such a thing anywhere in the world.” Federal agencies are trying to determine if the murre deaths are connected to lack of food or something else. ”This is the thing about this die-off,” Piatt said. “We don’t even know what we don’t know.”

KTVF, Mar 18, 2016: Thousands of Alaska birds dying mysteriously. The massive die-off continues to surprise federal scientists. The latest twist was the discovery of thousands of carcasses of common murres along a freshwater Alaska lake. USGS's John Piatt said to have more than 6,000 in a lake is mind-blowing.

KTUU, Mar 19, 2016: According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Common Murre spends winter at sea, making inland discoveries that much more alarming.

AP, Mar 15, 2016: Alaska scientists continue researching seabird death mystery. Die-offs have occurred before but not on this magnitude. Numbers spiked to alarming levels in early winter. The confirmed carcass count is now up to 36,000, USGS wildlife biologist Sarah Schoen said. That’s far higher than previous common murre die-offs and many beaches have not been surveyed. Though the murres appear to have starved, researchers wonder if something caused them to quit eating or to be less successful funding food. Some details are emerging The sampled birds also were heavier than birds sampled in a 1993 die-off. “So it doesn’t look like just starvation is killing them,” Schoen said. “It looks like there’s something else that could be tipping them over the edge.”

KTVA, Mar 9, 2016: It’s one of the biggest mysteries Alaska has seen for some time. Scientists say the die-off of Murres was the biggest they’ve ever seen and 500,000 Murres may have died. “They actually have empty stomachs, so we aren’t finding any food,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Elizabeth Labunski. Scientists say something is keeping the birds from reaching their food source, which suggests there could be a bigger problem with the ocean itself. “I think an alarm bell should go off because these are indicator species about what’s going on in the ocean,” said Fish and Wildlife biologist Kathy Kuletz. Kuletz said the bird die-off could have implications for other species, and she doesn’t think the die-off is over.

Naomi McMullen, Environmental Coordinator Native Village of Port Graham (Alaska), Jan 6, 2016: Community members] have seen more dead murres. One said there was a beach full of dead birds. We have seen some that looked very sick and unaware.

Arlene Shimanek & Alice Julius, Native Village of Goodnews Bay (Alaska), Aug 21, 2015: A resident had observed countless dead seagulls and other sea birds that were found dead. The amount she had seen was countless, birds were acting weird, sick, too weak to fly.

Nancy Yeaton, Nanwalek IRA Council (Alaska), Aug 17, 2015: Dead Birds (Murres). We want to be kept appraised of these impacts whether it is an algae bloom/PSP related event or potentially related to the Fukushima Power plant (earth quake) disaster?"

Broadcasts: KTVA | NPR
Please do a Search of this blog for "Fukushima", covered since day 1 here. Nothing additional to report about the absence of Bob Nichols, whose weekly "Your Radiation This Week" has been posted for several years here. It's information is greatly missed. Hoping he's well and otherwise occupied.

Inform yourself, if you don't already know, what an Extinction Level Event is; you and all of us are in one right now, whether you realize that or not. At least be aware of what and why; the "how" is the same process detailed in the post above, and there's nothing that can be done to stop it. Learn and understand why not. Everything you need to know is right here among the hundreds of posts about Fukushima, all source linked for additional information and verification. I know, "That's crazy, that could never happen." I really, really hate to tell you- it's not crazy, it's very real, and it has happened. Search and find out for yourself.
- CP

 "As I rocked in the moonlight,
And reefed the sail.
It'll happen to you
Also without fail,
If it happens to me.
Sang the world's last whale."
- Pete Seeger

It has, and it will, and it is...
- CP