Monday, July 21, 2014

ancient earthenworks pre-date amazonian rainforest

ancient-origins |  A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that a series of mysterious lines and geometric shapes carved into the Amazonian landscape were created thousands of years ago before the rainforest even existed, according to a report in Discovery News. The purpose of the massive earthworks and who created them remains unknown, and scientists are beginning to realise just how much there still is to learn about the prehistoric cultures of the Amazon and life before the arrival of Europeans. 

The unusual earthworks, which include square, straight, and ring-like ditches, were first uncovered in 1999, after large areas of pristine forest was cleared for cattle grazing. Since then, hundreds of the earthen foundations have been found in a region more than 150 miles across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil’s Amazonas state.

The ditches were sculpted from the clay rich soils of the Amazon and are typically around 30 feet wide and 10 feet deep, alongside 3 feet high walls. However, the largest ring ditches found so far are an incredible 1,000 feet in diameter.  The purpose of the ditches remains a complete mystery. The fact that many of them are clustered on a 200 metre high plateau suggests they may have been used for defence, however, others have suggested they were used for drainage or for channelling water since most were placed near spring water source. A team of researchers who published a paper in the journal Antiquity in 2010 argued that the layout of the ditches is highly symbolic suggestion a ceremonial and religious function.

Until now, it was believed that the earthworks dated back to around 200 AD. However, the latest study has revealed that they are, in fact, much older. Study author John Francis Carson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, explained that sediment cores had been taken from two lakes near the major earthwork sites.  These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can reveal information about the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.

The results revealed that the oldest sediments did not come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. Rather, they showed that the landscape, before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, looked more like the savannahs of Africa than today’s lush rainforest.

the final century of civilization?


tdf |  Climate Change Could Bring Catastrophe in Next Century. It's an idea that most of us would rather not face - that within the next century, life as we know it could come to an end. Our civilization could crumble, leaving only traces of modern human existence behind.

It seems outlandish, extreme - even impossible. But according to cutting edge scientific research, it is a very real possibility. And unless we make drastic changes now, it could very well happen. Experts have a stark warning: that unless we change course, the perfect storm of population growth, dwindling resources and climate change has the potential to converge in the next century with catastrophic results.

In order to plan for the worst, we must anticipate it. In that spirit, guided by some of the world's experts, ABC News' "Earth 2100," hosted by Bob Woodruff, will journey through the next century and explore what might be our worst-case scenario. But no one can predict the future, so how do we address the possibilities that lie ahead? Our solution is Lucy, a fictional character devised by the producers at ABC to guide us through the twists and turns of what the next 100 years could look like. It is through her eyes and experiences that we can truly imagine the experts' worst-case scenario -- and be inspired to make changes for the better.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

superintelligence


mashable |  Humans are currently the most intelligent beings on the planet — the result of a long history of evolutionary pressure and adaptation. But could we some day design and build machines that surpass the human intellect?

This is the concept of superintelligence, a growing area of research that aims to improve understanding of what such machines might be like, how they might come to exist, and what they would mean for humanity's future.

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom's recent book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies discusses a variety of technological paths that could reach superintelligent artificial intelligence (AI), from mathematical approaches to the digital emulation of human brain tissue.

And although it sounds like science fiction, a group of experts, including Stephen Hawking, wrote an article on the topic noting that "There is no physical law precluding particles from being organised in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains."

Brain as computer 
The idea that the brain performs "computation" is widespread in cognitive science and AI since the brain deals in information, converting a pattern of input nerve signals to output nerve signals.

Another well-accepted theory is that physics is Turing-computable: That whatever goes on in a particular volume of space, including the space occupied by human brains could be simulated by a Turing machine, a kind of idealized information processor. Physical computers perform these same information-processing tasks, though they aren't yet at the level of Turing's hypothetical device.

These two ideas come together to give us the conclusion that intelligence itself is the result of physical computation. And, as Hawking and colleagues go on to argue, there is no reason to believe that the brain is the most intelligent possible computer.

In fact, the brain is limited by many factors, from its physical composition to its evolutionary past. Brains were not selected exclusively to be smart, but to generally maximize human reproductive fitness. Brains are not only tuned to the tasks of the hunter gatherer, but also designed to fit through the human birth canal; supercomputing clusters or data-centers have no such constraints.
Synthetic hardware has a number of advantages over the human brain both in speed and scale, but the software is what creates the intelligence. How could we possibly get smarter-than-human software?

evolutionary forecasting


Simonfoundation |   Michael Doebeli, a mathematical biologist at the University of British Columbia, wondered how E. coli would evolve if it had two kinds of food instead of just one. In the mid-2000s, he ran an experiment in which he provided glucose — the sole staple of Lenski’s experiment — and another compound E. coli can grow on, known as acetate.
Doebeli chose the two compounds because he knew that E. coli treats them very differently. When given a choice between the two, it will devour all the glucose before switching on the molecular machinery for feeding on acetate. That’s because glucose is a better source of energy. Feeding on acetate, by contrast, E. coli can only grow slowly.

Something remarkable happened in Doebeli’s experiment — and it happened over and over again. The bacteria split into two kinds, each specialized for a different way of feeding. One population became better adapted to growing on glucose. These glucose-specialists fed on the sugar until it ran out and then slowly switched over to feeding on acetate. The other population became acetate-specialists; they evolved to switch over to feeding on acetate even before the glucose supply ran out and could grow fairly quickly on acetate.

When two different kinds of organisms are competing for the same food, it’s common for one to outcompete the other. But in Doebeli’s experiment, the two kinds of bacteria developed a stable coexistence. That’s because both strategies, while good, are not perfect. The glucose-specialists start out growing quickly, but once the glucose runs out, they slow down drastically. The acetate-specialists, on the other hand, don’t get as much benefit from the glucose. But they’re able to grow faster than their rivals once the glucose runs out.

Doebeli’s bacteria echoed the evolution of lizards in the Caribbean. Each time the lizards arrived on an island, they diversified into many of the same forms, each with its own set of adaptations. Doebeli’s bacteria diversified as well — and did so in flask after flask.

To get a deeper understanding of this predictable evolution, Doebeli and his postdoctoral researcher, Matthew Herron, sequenced the genomes of some of the bacteria from these experiments. In three separate populations they discovered that the bacteria had evolved in remarkable parallel. In every case, many of the same genes had mutated.

Although Doebeli’s experiments are more complex than Lenski’s, they’re still simple compared with what E. coli encounters in real life. E. coli is a resident of the gut, where it feeds on dozens of compounds, where it coexists with hundreds of other species, where it must survive changing levels of oxygen and pH, and where it must negotiate an uneasy truce with our immune system. Even if E. coli’s evolution might be predictable in a flask of glucose and acetate, it would be difficult to predict how the bacteria would evolve in the jungle of our digestive system.

bacteria that subsist on electricity


newscientist |   Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form – they eat and breathe electrons – and they are everywhere

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around is a key part of making ATP. "Life's very clever," says Nealson. "It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control." In most living things, the body packages the electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.

"That's the way we make all our energy and it's the same for every organism on this planet," says Nealson. "Electrons must flow in order for energy to be gained. This is why when someone suffocates another person they are dead within minutes. You have stopped the supply of oxygen, so the electrons can no longer flow."

The discovery of electric bacteria shows that some very basic forms of life can do away with sugary middlemen and handle the energy in its purest form – electrons, harvested from the surface of minerals. "It is truly foreign, you know," says Nealson. "In a sense, alien."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

why not try and breed the kwisatz haderach?

126 year old Jose Aguinelo dos Santos - world's oldest living person

westhunter |  The Dark Lords of the IRS have proclaimed that West Hunter Incorporated has Federal tax-exempt status. Contributions, including various forms of real property,  are deductible.  For details, write gcochran9@comcast.net.

West Hunter’s purpose is the advancement of education and science in anthropology and evolution.  That means this blog, scientific and popular articles, books, talks, and research projects.  Depending on resources, possible projects might include a search for  effective nootropics (possibly inspired by some of the Ashkenazi mutations),  cloning  a super-Neanderthal, or breeding the Kwisatz Haderach.

Robert Heinlein, in Methuselah’s Children, imagined the Howard Foundation.  Founded by Ira Howard, who made a pile in the California Gold Rush but died young (of old age!) and childless,  the foundation bribed people with unusually long-lived ancestors into marrying people with similar backgrounds, thus selectively breeding for longevity. This was written in 1941, when many people still knew that such things were possible.

You can imagine a similar foundation that breeds for intelligence: Cyril Kornbluth did, as background for The Marching Morons.  But today, there’s no such thing. Any attempt would be denounced, even if utterly non-coercive and completely successful.

Nobody’s thinking about the long run, the big issues.  Well, hardly anybody.

wade in the nytimes: adventures in very recent evolution



NYTimes |  Ten thousand years ago, people in southern China began to cultivate rice and quickly made an all-too-tempting discovery — the cereal could be fermented into alcoholic liquors. Carousing and drunkenness must have started to pose a serious threat to survival because a variant gene that protects against alcohol became almost universal among southern Chinese and spread throughout the rest of China in the wake of rice cultivation. 

The variant gene rapidly degrades alcohol to a chemical that is not intoxicating but makes people flush, leaving many people of Asian descent a legacy of turning red in the face when they drink alcohol. 

The spread of the new gene, described in January by Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is just one instance of recent human evolution and in particular of a specific population’s changing genetically in response to local conditions. 

Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute last month discovered another striking instance of human genetic change. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levels as recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution. 

Many have assumed that humans ceased to evolve in the distant past, perhaps when people first learned to protect themselves against cold, famine and other harsh agents of natural selection. But in the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome sequences now available from around the world have found increasing evidence of natural selection at work in the last few thousand years, leading many to assume that human evolution is still in progress. 

“I don’t think there is any reason to suppose that the rate has slowed down or decreased,” says Mark Stoneking, a population geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

the 10,000 year explosion?


wikipedia |  Cochran and Harpending put forward the idea that the development of agriculture has caused an enormous increase in the rate of human evolution, including numerous evolutionary adaptations to the different challenges and lifestyles that resulted. Moreover, they argue that these adaptations have varied across different human populations, depending on factors such as when the various groups developed agriculture, and the extent to which they mixed genetically with other population groups.[2]

Such changes, they argue, include not just well-known physical and biological adaptations such as skin colour, disease resistance, and lactose tolerance, but also personality and cognitive adaptations that are starting to emerge from genetic research. These may include tendencies towards (for example) reduced physical endurance, enhanced long-term planning, or increased docility, all of which may have been counter-productive in hunter-gatherer societies, but become favoured adaptations in a world of agriculture and its resulting trade, governments and urbanization. These adaptations are even more important in the modern world, and have helped shape today's nation states. The authors speculate that the scientific and Industrial Revolutions came about in part due to genetic changes in Europe over the past millennium, the absence of which had limited the progress of science in Ancient Greece. The authors suggest we would expect to see fewer adaptive changes among the Amerindians and sub-Saharan Africans, who have farmed for the shortest times and were genetically isolated from older civilizations by geographical barriers. In groups that had remained foragers, such as the Australian Aborigines, there would presumably be no such adaptations at all. This may explain why Indigenous Australians and many native Americans have characteristic health problems when exposed to modern Western diets. Similarly, Amerindians, Aboriginals, and Polynesians, for example, had experienced very little infectious disease. They had not evolved immunities as did many Old World dwellers, and were decimated upon contact with the wider world

Friday, July 18, 2014

let's talk about dopamine hegemony...,


pnas |  The D4 dopamine receptor (DRD4) locus may be a model system for understanding the relationship between genetic variation and human cultural diversity. It has been the subject of intense interest in psychiatry, because bearers of one variant are at increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (1). A survey of world frequencies of DRD4 alleles has shown striking differences among populations (2), with population differences greater than those of most neutral markers. In this issue of PNAS Ding et al. (3) provide a detailed molecular portrait of world diversity at the DRD4 locus. They show that the allele associated with ADHD has increased a lot in frequency within the last few thousands to tens of thousands of years, although it has probably been present in our ancestors for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

our polity is our way of life...,


boredpanda | We are all aware of the global pollution problem, but hardly anyone realizes just how much trash we produce daily. Gregg Segal, a photographer from California, aims to show this problem through powerful imagery, photographing people lying in their weekly load of trash. His ongoing project cleverly called “7 Days of Garbage” tries to portray people from different social backgrounds to reach largest audience possible .

Segal decided to photograph the participants in front of naturalistic backgrounds to show that the garbage produced by us is effecting it directly. “Obviously, the series is guiding people toward a confrontation with the excess that’s part of their lives. I’m hoping they recognize a lot of the garbage they produce is unnecessary”, he said to Slate.

Some of the participants were too ashamed of how much garbage they produced weekly, so they edited their garbage bags. Others showed everything just the way it was resulting in nasty and very strong images, which you can see here.  Fist tap Kurman.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

where the seignurial elites are taking us...,


reformer |  We are awash in capital and yet, around the world, the economic revival is floundering.
Clayton M. Christensen and Derek van Bever, writing for the Harvard Business Review, note the modern era is characterized by "capital superabundance" in which financial assets are today almost 10 times the value of the global output of all goods and services, and that the development of financial sectors in emerging economies will cause global capital to grow another 50 percent by 2020.

"Like an old machine emitting a new and troubling sound that even the best mechanics can't diagnose, the world economy continues its halting recovery from the 2008 recession," write Christensen and van Bever. "Look at what's happening in the United States: Even today, 60 months after the scorekeepers declared the recession to be over, its economy is still grinding along, producing low growth and disappointing job numbers."

Despite historically low interest rates, they write, corporations are sitting on massive amounts of cash and failing to invest in innovations that might foster growth.

The two acedemicians want to know what is causing this behavior.

"Are great opportunities in short supply, or are executives failing to recognize them? And how is this behavior pattern linked to overall economic sluggishness? What is holding growth back?"

The pair, with assistance from alumni, explored a wide range of reasons for the sputtering recovery, including political and economic uncertainty, the low rate of bank lending, a decline in publicly supported research in the United States, and the demise of innovation platforms like Bell Labs.

They believe that the crux of the problem is that investments in different types of innovation affect economies and companies in very different ways, but are evaluated using flawed metrics.
"Specifically, financial markets -- and companies themselves -- use assessment metrics that make innovations that eliminate jobs more attractive than those that create jobs. Efficiency innovations typically pay off within a year or two." Companies invest in efficiency, which eliminate jobs, because on an unexamined assumption, they write, "Which has risen almost to the level of a religion -- that corporate performance should be focused on, and measured by, how efficiently capital is used."

Would you like that in regular English? Short-term profits trump long-term profits in an era when the rule is get as much as you can, as fast as you can and get out.

The result, write Christensen and van Bever, is that the institutions, especially banks, that are meant to "lubricate" capitalism no longer do so.

Christensen and van Bever believe the system can be turned around by appealing to logic, fairplay and appropriate government policy that would liberate capital from short-term profits.
Fat chance, argue some political and economic observers.

"With all due respect ... these guys are thugs and looters," notes Arendt, writing for Daily Kos. "Your polite attempt to point out they are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs will get no traction with conquistadors. They will continue to suck America dry while looking for the next target overseas."

Let's not forget that for more than 30 years, following reduced taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the rolling back of regulations to rein in financial malfeasance, we have been promised the wealth would "trickle down" or that "a rising tide raises all boats." But since Ronald Reagan's days as president, the rich and corporations have stashed more than $30 trillion in offshore tax havens.

"Our surplus has been channeled into the Wall Street gambling casino, the rise of a predatory class of financial capitalists, and a bloated military/intelligence/police budget," notes Arendt.

Michael Lind calls this a "plantation" mentality, "a cruel caste system in which the white, brown and black majority labor for inadequate rewards while a cultivated but callous oligarchy of rich white families and their hirelings in the professions dominate the economy, politics, and the rarefied air of academic and museum culture." Fist tap Dale.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

catching feelings is downright unamerican...,


npr |  It's rare that a man makes it through life without being told, at least once, "Be a man." To Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL defensive lineman and now a pastor, those are the three scariest words that a boy can hear.

Ehrmann — who played with the Baltimore Colts for much of the 1970s and was a lineman at Syracuse University before that — confronted many models of masculinity in his life. But, as with many boys, his first instructor on manhood was his father, who was an amateur boxer.

Ehrmann says of his father: "I think his definition, which was very old in this country, was: Men don't need. Men don't want. Men don't touch. Men don't feel. If you're going to be a man in this world, you better learn how to dominate and control people and circumstances."

On the football field, those lessons served Ehrmann well. But, as he tells NPR's Audie Cornish, it was not the same case in the pediatric oncology ward. In 1978, Ehrmann's teenage brother was diagnosed with cancer. However tough Joe was on the field, he did not feel equipped to help his brother or himself.


self-segregation on the basis of core western values


npr |  A new study holds up a mirror to America's parents. A surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students in 33 different schools around the nation about what they thought their folks cared about most: that they achieve at a high level, that they are happy (defined as "feeling good most of the time"), or that they care for others. Almost 80 percent of youth picked high achievement or happiness as their top choice, while about 20 percent selected caring for others. The survey also shows that about 80 percent of kids themselves rank achievement or happiness as most important, paralleling what they believe their parents value most.

Mari Brennan Barerra and Joel Barrera are your quintessential do-gooders. They both work in the public sector, sit on multiple nonprofit boards, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and even picked their church because it was the one most committed to community service. Not surprisingly, they also say they have made it a priority to raise their kids to be caring and contributing.

If their daughter, Mila, 15, had to say whether her parents cared more about her being good to others or being successful, she says it'd be close, but she'd have to say "good," she hedges.

Her brother, James, 13, however, doesn't hesitate.

"Successful," he says.

How does he know? Because achievement in school is what his parents nag him about, and reward him for, the most. For example, they let him quit volunteering at the soup kitchen when he didn't like it, but he gets no such pass on schoolwork. Similarly, Mila says, her parents got really happy and took her out to a nice restaurant for dinner to reward her for getting a B instead of a C.

"It's one of those things people say, like, I really want you to be a good person, like that's my main thing," she says. "But deep inside, it's like, but I really want you to be successful."

Rhetoric Vs. Reality
Rick Weissbourd's at the Harvard Graduate School of Education published the study. Weissbourd says the results reveal a "rhetoric-reality gap" on the part of parents. In other research, parents have claimed that they value caring above all, but that's not what kids are internalizing.

"Kids are picking up on these mixed messages," he says. It could be little things, he says, like letting your son inflate his community-service commitment on a college application, or not asking your daughter to reach out to a friendless child on the playground.

"I don't think parents realize that these messages are drowning out other messages about caring and equality and fairness," Weissbourd says.

The study doesn't necessarily point to a decline in morality among young people. Still, Marvin Berkowitz, a professor of character education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, says the results are troubling.

He references a Teddy Roosevelt quote: "To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."

friendship segregation by genetic compatibility


pnas |  More than any other species, humans form social ties to individuals who are neither kin nor mates, and these ties tend to be with similar people. Here, we show that this similarity extends to genotypes. Across the whole genome, friends’ genotypes at the single nucleotide polymorphism level tend to be positively correlated (homophilic). In fact, the increase in similarity relative to strangers is at the level of fourth cousins. However, certain genotypes are also negatively correlated (heterophilic) in friends. And the degree of correlation in genotypes can be used to create a “friendship score” that predicts the existence of friendship ties in a hold-out sample. A focused gene-set analysis indicates that some of the overall correlation in genotypes can be explained by specific systems; for example, an olfactory gene set is homophilic and an immune system gene set is heterophilic, suggesting that these systems may play a role in the formation or maintenance of friendship ties. Friends may be a kind of “functional kin.” Finally, homophilic genotypes exhibit significantly higher measures of positive selection, suggesting that, on average, they may yield a synergistic fitness advantage that has been helping to drive recent human evolution.

Monday, July 14, 2014

metropolitan segregation by education


WaPo |  Census data suggests that in 1980 a college graduate could expect to earn about 38 percent more than a worker with only a high-school diploma. Since then, the difference in their wages has only widened as our economy has shifted to bestow greater and greater rewards on the well-educated. By 2000, that number was about 57 percent. By 2011: 73 percent.

These figures, though, reflect only part of the inequality that has pushed the lives of college and high school graduates in America farther apart. As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city.

This effectively means that college graduates in America aren't simply gaining access to higher wages. They're gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.

"With wage inequality, you could just observe the average wage of a college graduate, and the average wage of a high school graduate," says Diamond, whose research has gone a step further to calculate what she calls "economic well-being inequality." "But then on top of that, college graduates also live in the nicest cities in the country. They’re getting more benefits, even net of fact that they’re paying higher housing costs."

It's easy to recognize this phenomenon in San Francisco, or even Washington. College graduates have flooded in, drawn by both jobs and amenities. Yet more amenities have followed to cater to them (luring yet more college graduates). Housing costs have increased as a result, pushing low-wage and low-skilled workers out. At the neighborhood level, this cycle sounds a lot like how we describe gentrification. At the scale of entire cities — picture low-skilled workers increasingly excluded from Washington and San Francisco and segregated into cities like Toledo or Baton Rouge — Diamond describes this as a kind of nationwide gentrification effect.  Fist tap Dale.

corporate segregation by inversion


businessweek |  More than 40 U.S. companies have reincorporated in tax havens, a strategy known as inversion, 11 of them since 2012. Seven more are in the process of doing so. Last month, Medtronic (MDT), a Minnesota medical device maker whose customers include the Veterans Affairs Department, announced plans to become Irish. The government awards more than a dozen companies that have left the U.S. contracts worth more than $1 billion a year. 

The law defining inverted companies doesn’t cover Accenture, a company with Chicago roots that incorporated in Bermuda in 2001. The same is true for Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI), a Texas-run corporation with a Dutch address. According to public records, Accenture earned $960 million from federal contracts in 2013, and CB&I made $734 million. A spokesman for CB&I says the company complies with the law. Accenture spokesman James McAvoy says the company is eligible for government contracts because it was never incorporated in the U.S. When it first separated from Chicago-based Arthur Andersen in 1989, it was set up as a network of separate partnerships around the world overseen by a Swiss entity. For that reason the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded in 2002 that Accenture wasn’t an inverted company. McAvoy says a 2012 review by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed that Accenture, now based in Ireland, isn’t subject to the ban.

In its brochures, Ingersoll-Rand touts its projects for the Army and Navy. Yet for years it told shareholders and customers in public filings that it might be subject to the law. Recently the company conducted an “exhaustive legal analysis” and decided it’s not covered, says spokeswoman Misty Zelent. The government relies on contractors to police themselves. Zelent says the company works closely with government contracting officials to ensure compliance with a “complex area of the law.” Its contracts show just how complex it is and how many legal ways there are around the rules.

economic segregation by stupidity


NYTimes |  There was a windstorm of hasty excuses in recent weeks after Kansas reported that it took in $338 million less than expected in the 2014 fiscal year and would have to dip heavily into a reserve fund. Spending wasn’t cut enough, said conservatives. Too many rich people sold off stock in the previous year, state officials said. It’s the price of creating jobs, said Gov. Sam Brownback.

None of those reasons were correct. There was only one reason for the state’s plummeting revenues, and that was the spectacularly ill-advised income tax cuts that Mr. Brownback and his fellow Republicans engineered in 2012 and 2013. The cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy, cost the state 8 percent of the revenue it needs for schools and other government services. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, that’s about the same as the effect of a midsize recession. Moody’s cut the state’s debt rating in April for the first time in at least 13 years, citing the cuts and a lack of confidence in the state’s fiscal management.

The 2012 cuts were among the largest ever enacted by a state, reducing the top tax bracket by 25 percent and eliminating all taxes on business profits that are reported on individual income returns. (No other state has ever eliminated all taxes on these pass-through businesses.) The cuts were arrogantly promoted by Mr. Brownback with the same disproven theory that Republicans have employed for decades: There will be no loss of revenue because of all the economic growth!
“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses.

With less money to spend, Kansas is forced to chop away at its only hope for real economic expansion: investment in public schools and colleges. While most states began restoring education funding after the recession, Kansas has cut K-12 spending by 2 percent over the last two school years, and higher education by 3 percent since 2012.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

to understand a thing is to know whether or not to waste your breath in futile conversation with it...,


pbs |  On Making Sen$e this week, we’ve been publishing Paul Solman’s never-aired conversation with economic historian Gregory Clark about his 2007 book,“A Farewell to Alms.” In Friday’s installment, we get to the really controversial part: that genetics may explain why some societies, specifically industrial England, grew economically.

But, first, a recap of the journey Clark has taken us on this week. In the beginning of human history, population was limited by the limited resources to keep humans alive (this is the “Malthusian” economic view developed by Thomas Malthus.) And so with more violence (not to mention fewer working hours), hunter-gatherer society, Clark argued in part one of this interview, was easier than life in pre-industrial England, where material life was harder.

But that changed with the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, the West got rich. One of the world’s intellectual puzzles has been, why and how did England break out of that Malthusian trap? In part two, Clark explained how human nature – indeed our very patience for gratification – changed as we moved from hunter-gatherer society to 1800.

England wasn’t the site of fast economic growth, as the economics literature has long preached, because of the existence of political and market institutions. No, Clark said in part three, England’s economic growth stemmed from the “survival of the richest;” those who personalities were best suited for capitalism thrived.

And now for the truly controversial part. Those traits, like being materially-driven and being able to wait for gratification (think of the marshmallow test), vary by class, and even if Clark believed (and hoped) that cultural transmission explains the class variance, he saw nothing to rule out a genetic explanation.

Paul Solman: The reason that the New York Times science section did this whole big story on you, even before this book came out, surely is because of the genetic part of this explanation, yes? Is that fair?

Greg Clark: Absolutely. And it is a fascinating possibility. Most of the assumption has been that basically human nature was completed in the hunter-gatherer era, that there wasn’t enough time between the hunter-gatherer era and the modern world for any further significant changes in people’s basic nature.

I think the data from somewhere like England, and this is just suggestive, and also the information about these fairly fundamental changes in features like people’s patience, or the amount of work that people do, at least raises the possibility that there was a further change in people, booting the Neolithic revolution and the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

the detroit experiment: evolve or die...,


nakedcapitalism |  As Ilargi himself acknowledges, even by the standards of his fare, this post on “overshoot” is plenty sobering. We do seem to be on our way to precipitating a mass species die off (as in it’s underway already and humans seem remarkably unwilling to take sufficiently stern measures to stop it). The end of civilization as we know it seems almost inevitable, given that most “advanced” economies are seeing serious erosion of their social fabric, as reflected in falling social well-being measures.

However, the provocative point that Jay Hanson argues is that our hard-wired political habits guarantee our undoing. It’s akin to a literary rendering I read long ago of Dollo’s theory of evolution, which went something like this:
Species develop characteristics which give them competitive advantage. Dinosaurs get big so no predators can eat them up. Saber tooth tigers develop monster jaws so they can chomp on mastadons and other large prey.
But the problem is that species continue to develop these characteristics beyond the point of maximum advantage. Dinosaurs get so big that they need to get a second brain in their midsection to manage their bodies and they die of anatomical schizophrenia. Saber-tooth tiger become such efficient killers of large prey that they begin to wipe them out, and their hypertrophied jaws are badly adapted to killing smaller prey, so they die of starvation. And humans have developed overly large brains and are in the process of thinking themselves to death.
By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth

There is not one single person I’ve learned more from than Jay Hanson, back when I was even younger than I am now. Jay is not the greatest writer in the world, his talent is that he has the right kind of unrelenting curiosity, needed to dig deep into the reasons we put ourselves where we do (it’s hardwired). This curiosity made put together the best library of information on ourselves and the world we live in that one can ever hope to find, at dieoff.org, much of it not published anywhere else. I took a month off 15 years ago and read it all back to back. The dieoff library was – mostly – finished by then. So it was a nice surprise to have someone send me the following piece, which is recent. It may look bleak and dark to you, but the challenge is to find where you think Jay goes wrong, and what you know better. That will not be easy, Jay’s a mighty smart puppy. I guess the essence is this: our brains are our destiny. That this leads to things we don’t like to acknowledge is something we will need to deal with. Walking away from it is neither a solution nor the best way to use the one part of us that may help find a solution. Which is also our brain.

Jay Hanson: I have been forced to review the key lessons that I have learned concerning human nature and collapse over the last 20 years. Our collective behavior is the problem that must be overcome before anything can be done to mitigate the coming global social collapse. The single most-important lesson for me was that we cannot re-wire (literally, because thought is physical) our basic political agendas through reading or discussion alone. Moreover, since our thoughts are subject to physical law, we do not have the free-will to either think or behave autonomously.

We swim in “politics” like fish swim in water; it’s everywhere, but we can’t see it!
We are “political” animals from birth until death. Everything we do or say can be seen as part of lifelong political agendas. Despite decades of scientific warnings, we continue to destroy our life-support system because that behavior is part of our inherited (DNA/RNA) hard wiring. We use scientific warnings, like all inter-animal communications, for cementing group identity and for elevating one’s own status (politics).

Only physical hardship can force us to rewire our mental agendas. I am certainly not the first to make the observation, but now, after 20 years of study and debate, I am totally certain. The net energy principle guarantees that our global supply lines will collapse. The rush to social collapse cannot be stopped no matter what is written or said. Humans have never been able to intentionally-avoid collapse because fundamental system-wide change is only possible after the collapse begins.

to understand the machine is to be able to control and exploit the machine...,

wikipedia |  The concept "of 'limerence' provides a particular carving up of the semantic domain of love,"[7] and is an attempt at a scientific study into the nature of love. Limerence is considered as a cognitive and emotional state of being emotionally attached or even obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings—a near-obsessive form of romantic love.[8] For Tennov, "sexual attraction is an essential component of limerence...the limerent is a potential sex partner."[9]

Limerence is sometimes also interpreted as infatuation, or what is colloquially known as a "crush"; however, in common speech, infatuation includes aspects of immaturity and extrapolation from insufficient information and is usually short-lived. Tennov notes how limerence "may dissolve soon after its initiation, as in an early teenage buzz-centered crush,"[10] but is more concerned with the point when "limerent bonds are characterized by 'entropy' crystallization as described by Stendhal in his 1821 treatise On Love, where a new love infatuation perceptually begins to transform ... attractive characteristics are exaggerated and unattractive characteristics are given little or no attention....[creating] a limerent object'."

According to Tennov, there are at least two types of love: a) limerence, which she describes as (inter alia) "loving attachment"; and b) "loving affection," the bond that exists between an individual and his or her parents and children.[11] She notes, however, that one form may evolve into the other: 'those whose limerence was replaced by affectional bonding with the same partner might say..."We were very much in love when we married; today we love each other very much"'.[12] The distinction is comparable to that drawn by ethologists 'between the pair-forming and pair-maintaining functions of sexual activity',[6] just as 'the attachment of the attachment theorists is very similar to the emotional reciprocation longed for in Tennov's limerence, and each is linked to sexuality'.[13]

Limerence is characterized by intrusive thinking and pronounced sensitivity to external events that reflect the disposition of the limerent object towards the individual, and can be experienced as intense joy or as extreme despair, depending on whether the feelings are reciprocated. Basically, it is the state of being completely carried away by unreasoned passion or love, even to the point of addictive-type behavior. Usually, one is inspired with an intense passion or admiration for someone. Limerence can be difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it, and it is thus often dismissed by nonlimerents as ridiculous fantasy or a construct of romantic fiction.[1]

Tennov differentiates between limerence and other emotions by asserting that love involves concern for the other person's welfare and feeling. While limerence does not require it, those concerns may certainly be incorporated. Affection and fondness exist only as a disposition towards another person, irrespective of whether those feelings are reciprocated, whereas limerence deeply desires return, but it remains unaltered whether it is returned or not. Physical contact with the object is neither essential nor sufficient to an individual experiencing limerence, unlike one experiencing sexual attraction.[citation needed] Where early, unhealthy attachment patterns or trauma influence limerence, the limerent object may be construed as an idealization of the figure(s) involved in the original unhealthy attachment or trauma. Lack of reciprocation may, in such instances, actually serve to reinforce lessons learned in earlier, unhealthy bonding experiences, and hence to strengthen the limerence.