Thursday, June 14, 2012

why smart people are stupid

New Yorker | Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others, including Shane Frederick (who developed the bat-and-ball question), demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort. Fist tap Dale.


New Yorker | In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O., decided to write a book in which he shared his creative secrets. At the time, B.B.D.O. was widely regarded as the most innovative firm on Madison Avenue. Born in 1888, Osborn had spent much of his career in Buffalo, where he started out working in newspapers, and his life at B.B.D.O. began when he teamed up with another young adman he’d met volunteering for the United War Work Campaign. By the forties, he was one of the industry’s grand old men, ready to pass on the lessons he’d learned. His book “Your Creative Power” was published in 1948. An amalgam of pop science and business anecdote, it became a surprise best-seller. Osborn promised that, by following his advice, the typical reader could double his creative output. Such a mental boost would spur career success—“To get your foot in the door, your imagination can be an open-sesame”—and also make the reader a much happier person. “The more you rub your creative lamp, the more alive you feel,” he wrote.

“Your Creative Power” was filled with tricks and strategies, such as always carrying a notebook, to be ready when inspiration struck. But Osborn’s most celebrated idea was the one discussed in Chapter 33, “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” When a group works together, he wrote, the members should engage in a “brainstorm,” which means “using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.” For Osborn, brainstorming was central to B.B.D.O.’s success. Osborn described, for instance, how the technique inspired a group of ten admen to come up with eighty-seven ideas for a new drugstore in ninety minutes, or nearly an idea per minute. The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines.

The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The most important of these, Osborn said—the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” he wrote. “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense that you’ll be disgusted. Never mind. You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.” Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting. Fist tap Arnach.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

long awaited return to wonderful strange ports of call...,

gmanetwork | In the early years of China's rise to economic and military prowess, the guiding principle for its government was Deng Xiaoping's maxim: "Hide Your Strength, Bide Your Time."

Now, more than three decades after paramount leader Deng launched his reforms, that policy has seemingly lapsed or simply become unworkable as China's military muscle becomes too expansive to conceal and its ambitions too pressing to postpone.

The current row with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the energy-rich South China Sea (also called West Philippine Sea) is a prime manifestation of this change, especially the standoff with the Philippines over Pantag (Scarborough) Shoal.

"This is not what we saw 20 years ago," said Ross Babbage, a defense analyst and founder of the Canberra-based Kokoda Foundation, an independent security policy unit.

"China is a completely different actor now. Security planners are wondering if it is like this now, what is it going to be like in 20 years time?"

As China also continues to modernize its navy at breakneck speed, a growing sense of unease over Beijing's long-term ambitions has galvanized the exact response Deng was anxious to avoid, regional security experts say.

In what is widely interpreted as a counter to China's growing influence, the United States is pushing ahead with a muscular realignment of its forces towards the Asia-Pacific region, despite Washington's fatigue with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon's steep budget cuts.

And regional nations, including those with a history of adversarial or distant relations with the United States, are embracing Washington's so-called strategic pivot to Asia.

"In recent years, because of the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea, most regional states in Southeast Asia seem to welcome and support US strategic rebalancing in the region," said Li Mingjiang, an assistant professor and China security policy expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"Very likely, this trend will continue in coming years."

Last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta laid out the details of the firepower the Obama administration plans to swing to the Asia-Pacific region.

As part of the strategic pivot unveiled in January, the United States will deploy 60 per cent of its warships in the Asia-Pacific, up from 50 per cent now. They will include six aircraft carriers and a majority of the US navy's cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines.

china excluded from iran oil trade waivers

NYTimes | Less than three weeks before stringent American sanctions intended to reduce Iran’s oil exports take effect, the Obama administration announced on Monday that it would exempt seven major importers of Iranian oil — but not China — from the measures because these countries had “significantly reduced” their oil purchases from Iran.

Administration officials said the United States was continuing to negotiate with China, the world’s No. 1 buyer of Iranian oil, after a confusing period in which Chinese purchases dropped sharply during a price dispute with Tehran but later rebounded.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the administration had issued waivers to India, Malaysia, South Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan. They joined Japan and 10 European countries that the United States had previously said would be exempt from sanctions for six months.

“Today’s announcement underscores the success of our sanctions implementation,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement. “By reducing Iran’s oil sales, we are sending a decisive message to Iran’s leaders: until they take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community, they will continue to face increasing isolation and pressure.”

Still, the absence of China from the waiver list indicates the hurdles the administration faces in persuading Iran’s largest customer to curtail its purchases. And it sets up a potential collision with China, which along with the United States is a member of the group of major powers that is negotiating with Iran over the future of its nuclear program.

industrial scars...,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

is the chinese kleptocracy like nothing in human history?

Business Insider | China is a kleptocracy of a scale never seen before in human history. This post aims to explain how this wave of theft is financed, what makes it sustainable and what will make it fail. There are several China experts I have chatted with – and many of the ideas are not original. The synthesis however is mine. Some sources do not want to be quoted.

The macroeconomic effects of the Chinese kleptocracy and the massive fixed-currency crisis in Europe are the dominant macroeconomic drivers of the global economy. As I am trying a comprehensive explanation for much of the world's economy in less that two thousand words I expect some kick-back.

China is a kleptocracy. Get used to it.

I start this analysis with China being a kleptocracy – a country ruled by thieves. That is a bold assertion – but I am going to have to assert it. People I know deep in the weeds (that is people who have to deal with the PRC and the children of the PRC elite) accept it. My personal experience is more limited but includes the following:

(a). The children and relatives of CPC Central Committee members are amongst the beneficiaries of the wave of stock fraud in the US,

(b). The response to the wave of stock fraud in the US and Hong Kong has not been to crack down on the perpetrators of the stock fraud (so to make markets work better). It has been to make Chinese statutory accounts less available to make it harder to detect stock fraud.

(c). When given direct evidence of fraudulent accounts in the US filed by a large company with CPC family members as beneficiaries or management a big 4 audit firm will (possibly at the risk to their global franchise) appear to sign the accounts knowing full well that they are fraudulent. The auditors (including and arguably especially the big four) are co-opted for the benefit of Chinese kleptocrats.

This however is only the beginning of Chinese fraud. China is a mafia state – and Bo Xilai is just a recent public manifestation. If you want a good guide to the Chinese kleptocracy – including the crimes of Bo Xilai well before they made the international press look at this speech by John Garnaut to the US China Institute.

if europe is a culture of peace, why nato?

aljazeera | It is undoubtedly true that the greatest unacknowledged achievement of the European Union is to establish "a culture of peace" within its regional enclosure for the 68 years since 1944. This has meant not only the absence of war in Europe, but also the absence of "war talk", threats, crises, and sanctions - with the single important exception of the NATO Kosovo War of 1999 that was part of the fallout from the breakup of former Yugoslavia. This legally controversial intervention was undertaken by the US-led alliance to achieve several goals: to rescue Albanian Kosovars from a feared imminent humanitarian catastrophe at the hands of their oppressive Serb occupiers; to facilitate the de facto independence of Kosovo from Serbian rule; to demonstrate the post-Cold War viability of NATO; and to reinforce the victory claims of the 1991 Gulf War, thereby showing that the West could win wars with minimal casualties on its side due to a recently acquired technological ability to shift the human burdens of war almost entirely to the adversary.

The contrast with the first half of the 20th century is stark when Europe seemed definitely the global cockpit of the war system in the East-West struggle for global supremacy. Tens of millions of Western soldiers and civilians died in response to the two German attempts by force of arms to gain a bigger role within this European nexus of geopolitics, as organised in the West. Germany challenged the established order, not only by recourse to massive aggressive wars in the form of World Wars I and II, but also by establishing a political infrastructure that gave rise in the 1930s to the violently genocidal ideology of Nazism, the most diabolical rendering of fascism.

'Culture of peace'

Even during the Cold War decades, Europe was not really at peace, but always at the brink of an unimaginably devastating third world war.

For the more than four decades of the Cold War there existed a constant threat of a war fought with nuclear weapons, a conflict that could have produced the scourge of apocalyptic warfare resulting from provocative US-led deployments of nuclear weapons or inflammatory Soviet interventions in Eastern Europe, or even from the periodically tense relations in the divided city of Berlin, or due to such mundane causes as human error and technological accident as with the misidentification of innocent behaviour as hostile.

Russia warns US over missile-defence shield

Also, to some extent the Soviet Union, with its totalitarian variant of state socialism, was as much European as it was Asian, and thus to a degree the Cold War was being fought within Europe, although its violent dimensions were prudently "outsourced" to the global periphery.

Despite the current plans to surround Russia with "defensive" missile systems, purportedly to construct a shield to stop Iranian missiles, there seems little threat of any war being fought within European space, and even a war-threatening diplomatic confrontation seems improbable at this point.

In many respects, the EU has incubated a culture of peace in its homeland, which although partial and precarious, has been transformative for Europeans - even if this most daring post-Westphalia experiment in regional integration and sovereignty has been wrongly assessed. It is almost always evaluated from an economistic perspective best appreciated by examining trade and investment statistics, monetary union, and regional economic management.

Monday, June 11, 2012

the solution is collapse

oftwominds | So the root problem is the system, human nature, blah blah blah. There are no "solutions" that can fix those defaults. Thus the "solution" is collapse.

Policies create incentives and disincentives. Some are intended, some fall into the category of unintended consequences. Regardless of their intention, policies that create windfalls ("easy money") or open spigots of "free money" (or what is perceived as free money by the recipient) quickly gather the allegiance of everyone reaping the windfall or collecting the free money.

This allegiance is soon tempered into political steel by self-justification: humans excel at rationalizing their self-interest. Thus my share of the swag is soon "absolutely essential."

Humans don't need much incentive to pursue windfalls or free money--seeking windfalls in the here and now is our default setting. Taking the pulpit to denounce humanity's innate greed, avarice and selfishness doesn't change this, as seeking short-term windfalls has offered enormous selective advantages for hundreds of thousands of years.

That which is painful to those collecting free money will be avoided, and that which is easy will be pursued until it's painful. Borrowing $1.5 trillion a year from toddlers and the unborn taxpayers of the future is easy and painless, as toddlers have no political power. So we will borrow from the powerless to fund our free money spigots until it becomes painful.

It won't become painful to borrow from our grandkids for quite some time, and it will probably not become progressively painful, either, because we will suppress the pain with superlow interest rates and other trickery. The pain will more likely be of the sudden, unexpected, "this can't be happening to me" heart-attack sort: the free-money machine will unexpectedly grind to a halt in some sort of easily predictable but always-in-the-future crisis.

in u.s. 46% hold creationist view of human origins

Gallup | Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans' views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.

More broadly, some 78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way, just slightly less than the percentage who felt this way 30 years ago.

All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins.

Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.

the theory of "intelligent falling"

the onion | As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

joseph stiglitz: the price of inequality

project-syndicate | America likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity, and others view it in much the same light. But, while we can all think of examples of Americans who rose to the top on their own, what really matters are the statistics: to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and education of his or her parents?

Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.

It would be one thing if the high incomes of those at the top were the result of greater contributions to society, but the Great Recession showed otherwise: even bankers who had led the global economy, as well as their own firms, to the brink of ruin, received outsize bonuses.

A closer look at those at the top reveals a disproportionate role for rent-seeking: some have obtained their wealth by exercising monopoly power; others are CEOs who have taken advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to extract for themselves an excessive share of corporate earnings; and still others have used political connections to benefit from government munificence – either excessively high prices for what the government buys (drugs), or excessively low prices for what the government sells (mineral rights).

Likewise, part of the wealth of those in finance comes from exploiting the poor, through predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices. Those at the top, in such cases, are enriched at the direct expense of those at the bottom.

It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that everyone benefits from enriching those at the top. But most Americans today are worse off – with lower real (inflation-adjusted) incomes – than they were in 1997, a decade and a half ago. All of the benefits of growth have gone to the top.

Defenders of America’s inequality argue that the poor and those in the middle shouldn’t complain. While they may be getting a smaller share of the pie than they did in the past, the pie is growing so much, thanks to the contributions of the rich and superrich, that the size of their slice is actually larger. The evidence, again, flatly contradicts this. Indeed, America grew far faster in the decades after World War II, when it was growing together, than it has since 1980, when it began growing apart.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, once one understands the sources of inequality. Rent-seeking distorts the economy. Market forces, of course, play a role, too, but markets are shaped by politics; and, in America, with its quasi-corrupt system of campaign finance and its revolving doors between government and industry, politics is shaped by money. Fist tap Arnach.

half of US social program recipients believe they "have not used a government social program"

boingboing | "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era," a paper by Cornell's Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions Suzanne Mettler features this remarkable chart showing that about half of American social program beneficiaries believe that they "have not used a government social program." It's the "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" phenomena writ large: a society of people who subsist on mutual aid and redistributive policies who've been conned (and conned themselves) into thinking that they are rugged individualists and that everyone else is a parasite. Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era (PDF)

Friday, June 08, 2012

not a cost-effective way to address The Problem...,

the nation | The image of President Obama poring over baseball-card profiles of terror suspects in Jo Becker and Scott Shane’s now famous New York Times “kill list” exposé probably pleased the administration officials whose cooperation made the story possible, wrapping the president in glinting “warrior in chief” election year packaging. For those concerned about the constitutional protection of civil liberties and the rule of law, however, that image, and the extraordinary practices it represents, was profoundly disturbing. The drone policy the president has developed not only infringes on the sovereignty of other nations, but the assassinations violate laws put in place in the 1970s after scandals enveloped an earlier era of CIA criminality. The new details about Obama’s assassination program also remind us how the 2001 Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force established a disastrous policy of “borderless and open-ended war that threatens to indefinitely extend US military engagement around the world,” in the words of the only member of the House to vote against it, Barbara Lee.

The kill list makes a mockery of due process by circumventing judicial review, and turning the executive into judge, jury and executioner. Even worse, the “signature” strikes described in the Times article, in which nameless individuals are assassinated based merely on patterns of behavior, dispense with any semblance of habeas corpus altogether. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, signature strikes account for most of the attacks in Pakistan today, and they were recently approved for use in Yemen.

One of the darkest aspects of this story involves the administration’s method of counting civilian casualties: The CIA simply assumes that any military-age male in the vicinity of a terror suspect must be a militant too. Thus, counterterrorism chief John Brennan was able to state with a straight face in August 2011 that not one civilian had perished from US strikes outside Afghanistan and Iraq in more than a year—a declaration that was greeted with incredulity and outrage in Pakistan, where witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths. Fist tap Makheru.

transfer of the cost of the drug problem from the consuming to the producing countries

Guardian | The vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich "consuming" countries – principally across Europe and in the US – rather than war-torn "producing" nations such as Colombia and Mexico, new research has revealed. And its authors claim that financial regulators in the west are reluctant to go after western banks in pursuit of the massive amount of drug money being laundered through their systems.

The most far-reaching and detailed analysis to date of the drug economy in any country – in this case, Colombia – shows that 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country, while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries.

"The story of who makes the money from Colombian cocaine is a metaphor for the disproportionate burden placed in every way on 'producing' nations like Colombia as a result of the prohibition of drugs," said one of the authors of the study, Alejandro Gaviria, launching its English edition last week.

"Colombian society has suffered to almost no economic advantage from the drugs trade, while huge profits are made by criminal distribution networks in consuming countries, and recycled by banks which operate with nothing like the restrictions that Colombia's own banking system is subject to."

His co-author, Daniel Mejía, added: "The whole system operated by authorities in the consuming nations is based around going after the small guy, the weakest link in the chain, and never the big business or financial systems where the big money is."

The work, by the two economists at University of the Andes in Bogotá, is part of an initiative by the Colombian government to overhaul global drugs policy and focus on money laundering by the big banks in America and Europe, as well as social prevention of drug taking and consideration of options for de-criminalising some or all drugs.

The economists surveyed an entire range of economic, social and political facets of the drug wars that have ravaged Colombia. The conflict has now shifted, with deadly consequences, to Mexico and it is feared will spread imminently to central America. But the most shocking conclusion relates to what the authors call "the microeconomics of cocaine production" in their country.

Gaviria and Mejía estimate that the lowest possible street value (at $100 per gram, about £65) of "net cocaine, after interdiction" produced in Colombia during the year studied (2008) amounts to $300bn. But of that only $7.8bn remained in the country.

"It is a minuscule proportion of GDP," said Mejía, "which can impact disastrously on society and political life, but not on the Colombian economy. The economy for Colombian cocaine is outside Colombia."

Mejía told the Observer: "The way I try to put it is this: prohibition is a transfer of the cost of the drug problem from the consuming to the producing countries." Fist tap Dale.

golden dawn bout ready to start puttin in work...,

Thursday, June 07, 2012

our timebomb is mysticism. its delivery system is language...,

regmorrison | Exerpts from the book:

“… Here, evolution had hit on the sweetest of solutions. Such perceptions were guaranteed to produce a faith-dependent species that believed itself to be thoroughly separate from the rest of the animal kingdom, but followed its genetic instructions to the letter—and left more offspring as a consequence. Here was a gene-driven animal just like any other, yet one that believed itself to be under special guidance—guidance that was not merely ‘spiritual’, but in most instances ‘divine’. Here was a wonderfully practical insanity, an invincible, hereditary madness that eventually enabled this under-endowed ‘paragon of animals’ to devour the planet like a ripe fruit.

This breathtakingly innovative derangement—present in all mammals to some extent—seems to have switched into overdrive in humans to minimise the immense risks inherent in the major brain enlargement that began almost three million years ago. The human brain has doubled its volume and quadrupled the surface area of its rational cortex in that time, a degree of enlargement unprecedented in the evolution of any other species. If behavioral control had gradually transferred from the ‘instincts’ to the rational brain during this period—as is commonly assumed—I believe our end would have been bloody and swift. Even today, given our tenuous grasp of evolution and its complexities, the most genetically advantageous behavior usually lies far beyond the scope of instant rational computation. A million years ago too much rational thought would have been suicidal. In other words, without a genetic override mechanism securely wired into the brain of Homo erectus, that cortical enlargement would, I believe, have been lethal.

Armed with an X-factor, an automatic override device that cuts off rational thought at a moment’s notice and draws directly from a reservoir of pretested genetic behavior, we remained fully functional animals. It enabled us to continue to feed, mate, and reproduce without interference from our enlarged cortex. To put it yet another way, our neuronal circuitry remained ‘hot-wired’ to our genes so that we would not be handicapped by logic when genetic responses were called for. That is why, under the spell of our carefully programmed ‘spirituality’, we cannot help falling in love, yearning for sexual gratification, nurturing our children, forging tribal bonds, suspecting strangers, uniting against common enemies, and on occasions, laying down our lives for family, friends or tribe. No gene could ask for more.

* * *

So, although our species’ conquest of the planet might appear to represent the gradual triumph of the intellect over our brutish nature, in fact, precisely the reverse is true. Being primarily founded on, and driven by, mystical beliefs of one kind or another, human civilisation represents not so much a triumph of the mind over the body as the triumph of the gene over gene-threatening rational thought.

* * *

Precisely what we believe is immaterial; what matters is the kind of behaviour that belief generates. . . . As far as our genes are concerned we can believe that the universe is driven by an overweight fairy on a green cheese bicycle provided that such belief effectively coerces us into adopting tribal behaviour in all matters of evolutionary consequence, such as feeding, mating, nurturing, bonding, and protecting family, tribe and territory.

* * *

Despite the astonishing behavioral flexibility that has steered this maladapted primate so adroitly through some 2.5 million hazardous years, the animal is still vulnerable in the way that all animals are vulnerable: through its adaptive specialisations. By endowing the human brain with its language facility, evolution has ensured that human genes will continue to bypass the cerebral cortex at will, disguising fact with ‘significance’ and turning imagination into perceived fact. This prodigious talent for spiritualising its perceptions seems certain to keep this sapient primate safely sequestered from reality and well within reach of the biosphere’s standard forms of population control.

There were three evolutionary prerequisites for our particular flaw: in view of our physical inadequacy it needed to be extraordinarily beneficial to begin with, and even when switched into its destruct mode it had to remain well disguised and thoroughly tamper-proof. All of those evolutionary requirements have been fulfilled. Our timebomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA.” (The Spirit in the Gene, Cornell University Press, 1999)

the problems with The Problem

population elephant | Some things are so preeminent within their context that they need no adjectives or explanation. Ask any American football fan what is referred to by "The Play" and they will tell you abut the final play in the 1982 Cal/Stanford game when, after several laterals and a mad dash through the Stanford band, Cal scored the winning touchdown as time expired (do a Google search on "the play" and see for yourself). Likewise, "The Open" refers only to the British Open golf tournament, even though there are dozens of other "Open" athletic events.

The world today is beset with a host of major issues - oil depletion, climate change, food shortages, resource wars, species extinction - to name but a few. But these are only symptoms of the one true problem. "The Real Problem" - the one that spawns all others, and the one that mankind must face at some point - is that there are simply too many human beings on this planet.

Therefore, I suggest, that like "The Play" and "The Open" - hereafter overpopulation should be referred to as "The Problem".

Unfortunately, in today's world, we are content to address only the consequences of the The Problem - climate change, energy depletion, food shortages, etc. This is the same classic mistake that a physician makes in treating only the patient's symptoms, and ignoring the fundamental disease.

So then, the million dollar question is: "Why aren't we addressing the real problem?"

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

the high price of "dark fusion"

aljazeera | It was the height of the dot-com boom in the United States, but the bubble that fuelled the Clinton years wasn't fooling the American military. The top strategic planners of the day were still worried about potential threats to the US in the still young post-Cold War era - not despite, but because of the rapid spread of a still poorly understood globalisation.

Projecting ahead to the year 2020, the military planners and dozens of major corporations who were involved in the research argued that globalisation was making the world a more dangerous place precisely because it would widen the gap "between 'haves' and 'have-nots'" . This situation demanded that the US establish a "full spectrum dominance" over literally every plane of human existence - under and on the sea, on land, in the air and even in space.

Four years later, the September 11 attacks provided the pretext for launching a full spectrum war for global dominance that could not be launched during the "peace dividend" years of the Clinton presidency.

What documents such as the US Space Command's "Vision 2020" did not discuss was that the launching of a new "global war" would ultimately involve turning the American military, judicial and diplomatic machines on American citizens. It happened before: during the Vietnam and civil rights eras with the deployment of military-inspired SWAT units and COINTELPRO monitoring and infiltrations tactics against activist and minority communities.

During the last decade, more than 15 million Americans have entered the ranks of the global "have nots" whom Pentagon planners were, and no doubt remain, so worried about. It's no wonder that the militarisation of law enforcement, coupled with the reduction of constitutional protections for American citizens, have served as natural complements to large-scale incarceration and military recruitment as the best strategies for dealing with the problem of the unassimilable poor.

Yet at some point, gung-ho, ignorance-is-bliss patriotism, large scale imprisonment, foreign wars, even 1,000 TV channels and high speed internet won't keep people off the streets - especially in the wake of the worst recession in 70 years and a decade filled with multiple wars. And thus, the Occupy movement burst to life: inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and ultimately sparked by the same underlying global neoliberal system that has concentrated wealth and power and increasingly criminalised dissent everywhere.

Full spectrum propaganda
In Tunisia and Egypt, the "secret" or "security" police were infamous for ensuring that regime propaganda was put out as truth, and worse, for spying on citizens and abductions and long-term detention of anyone deemed a threat to the state. And yet now, as these countries struggle to create states that will be less inclined to inflict these practices on their citizens, the United States is moving in the direction they are trying to leave behind.

There are three new and interrelated threats to fundamental freedoms that are directly related to the ongoing war on terror; they involve attempts to permit the US government to deploy propaganda inside the United States, to increase the ability to spy on American citizens and to detain Americans indefinitely without trial for involvement in what until now have been constitutionally protected activities.

All three are direct results of a war on terror abroad that has morphed into a war on the have-nots and the want-nots - those who no longer want to be part of the existing system - at home. While the Obama Administration has not wholly embraced all three tactics, the groundwork is being laid for a full scale assault on the American people should the Republicans strengthen their control of the Congress and even win back the presidency this year.

Beginning with increased propaganda efforts, the most recent National Defense Authorization Act includes an amendment sponsored by Republican Representative Max Thornberry of Texas and Adam Smith, a Democrat from the state of Washington, referred to variously as the "Dissemination of Information Abroad" amendment, and as a separate bill, HR 5736, "The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012." Whatever one calls it, this legislation would overturn a 64-year old prohibition against the US government directly deploying propaganda material towards American citizens inside the United States, thereby "wiping out the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences".

Supporters of the change argue that it merely gets rid of an "artificial handicap to US global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs". But in fact it does much more. It expands the authority to develop and disseminate propaganda from the Office of Public Diplomacy to the State Department as a whole and the Broadcasting Board of Governors - a presidentially-appointed body that includes entertainment executives, investment bankers and former White House press secretaries. These are people who have no institutional history of providing truthful or accurate information to the public, in or outside the United States. Fist tap Arnach.

no wonder the working man despises the elites

guardian | The European crisis is as much political as economic. It raises fundamental democratic questions. By what right do you govern us? How can we control you while you are in power and how can we remove you if your governance fails? Last week, Michael Ignatieff, former columnist on this newspaper and former leader of the Canadian Liberal party, came to London from a country where politicians can tell the electorate that they have limited powers to remedy their grievances and gazed on Europe with horror. "What," he asked, "is a working stiff in Piraeus meant to make of Christine Lagarde?"

His question answered itself. Madame Lagarde told Greek parents who were scrambling through rubbish tips to find food for their families that she had more sympathy for the children of sub-Saharan Africa. Having unburdened herself of the oafish thought that suffering is a competition in which the poorest can be used as a weapon against the poor, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund added: "I think they should also help themselves collectively. By all paying their tax." The knowledge that she does not pay tax herself in no way restrained her.

The better sort of journalist and, naturally, diplomats are appalled by the Greek charges of hypocrisy that followed. The world has tolerated an over-generous clause in the 1961 Vienna Convention that exempted "diplomatic agents" from tax for more than 60 years. In any case, they added, whether IMF officials and other diplomats pay tax has nothing to do with the eurozone's breakdown. They forgot that perks that no one notices in ordinary times can in crises become as intolerable as the tax exemptions of the aristocrats and clerics were to the French revolutionaries of 1789. In a crisis, the elite has to convince the masses that there is a rough equality of sacrifice – a connection between them and us – or lose legitimacy.