31 August 2009

The "Good Enough" Revolution Comes to Government?

The "good enough" revolution is about making things cheaper, easier to use, more reliable -- but not necessarily perfect. Examples of the "good enough revolution":
After some trial and error, Pure Digital released what it called the Flip Ultra in 2007. The stripped-down camcorder—like the Single Use Digital Camera—had lots of downsides. It captured relatively low-quality 640 x 480 footage at a time when Sony, Panasonic, and Canon were launching camcorders capable of recording in 1080 hi-def. It had a minuscule viewing screen, no color-adjustment features, and only the most rudimentary controls. It didn't even have an optical zoom. But it was small (slightly bigger than a pack of smokes), inexpensive ($150, compared with $800 for a midpriced Sony), and so simple to operate—from recording to uploading—that pretty much anyone could figure it out in roughly 6.7 seconds.

...By reducing the size of audio files, MP3s allowed us to get music into our computers—and, more important, onto the Internet—at a manageable size. This in turn let us listen to, manage, and manipulate tracks on our PCs, carry thousands of songs in our pockets, purchase songs from our living rooms, and share tracks with friends and even strangers. And as it turned out, those benefits actually mattered a lot more to music lovers than the single measure of quality we had previously applied to recorded music—fidelity. It wasn't long before record labels were wringing their hands over declining CD sales.

...the MQ-1 Predator isn't much of a plane. Its top speed is a mere 135 miles per hour. It has an altitude ceiling of 25,000 feet. It carries only two 100-pound Hellfire missiles. It has a propeller.
Yet the MQ-1 Predator is selling off the shelves. Because it is good enough to do the job. And then there are the cheap software legal services, and the mini-clinic storefront satellite offices, and so on.... Good enough is good enough.
You can think of it this way: 20 percent of the effort, features, or investment often delivers 80 percent of the value to consumers. That means you can drastically simplify a product or service in order to make it more accessible and still keep 80 percent of what users want—making it Good Enough—which is exactly what Kaiser [mini clinic] did.

....The phenomenon certainly won't stop with hospitals, lawyers, and military campaigns. As more and more industries move their business online, they too will find success in Good Enough tools that focus on maximizing accessibility. It's a reflection of our new value system. We've changed. To benefit from the MP3 effect, companies will have to change as well. _Wired
So when will this "good enough revolution" come to government? Since government sets the rules that the entire society functions under, it is critical for government to be responsive, reliable, and easy to understand and work with.

Unfortunately the trend in government is in the opposite direction, to larger size, more complexity, less reliability, and greater incomprehensibility. Governments are slow to react to new realities, and get stuck on outmoded and counter-productive solutions that only make things worse.

Simplicity, compactness, reliability, and responsiveness are traits that government should strive for. A good government would. But what we have is not good government, it is a growing monstrosity of destruction.

So what will it take to bring the "good enough revolution" to government?

More: Brian Wang thinks the good enough revolution may enable a future of abundance.

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Spain's Solar Suicide a Warning to the Wise

Spain's economy is crashing, in part due a burst housing balloon and in part due to the Spanish government's insane overcommitment to solar energy. The Spanish treasury is being sucked dry by well-intentioned subsidies for solar installations -- $26.4 billion in commitments for one year alone. And they will get only about 450 MW of power for all that. Compare with what they could have gotten from the same investment in nuclear:
Incidentally, $26 billion is also the very infamous, much-maligned bid cost for two (2) ACR-1000 CANDUs in Ontario (recent discussion). That is, likewise, a lifetime cost, including all fuel and operations over 60 years. So let's compare: $26 billion for an average output of 450 MW over a 20-25 year lifespan, vs. $26 billion for (2 * 1,200 MWe * 0.95 capacity factor) = 2,280 MW over 60 years, plus some new highway exits (how did that get into the AECL bid anyway). That is, 80-100 TWh (over 20-25 years) vs. 1,200 TWh (over 60 years). Same cost (modulo interest rates and related financial quirks.) _CapacityFactor
Green insanity disease swept over Europe, and has crossed the pond to North America with the election of the Obama / Pelosi reich. As the energy starvation regime tightens its chokehold on American energy via Cap 'N Trade and thousands of other green-insanity regulations, America's overburdened economy will reel.

Until Spain's abrupt collapse, the Iberian nation had been held up as a model for imitating. As it becomes more clear how Spain's energy fanaticism helped bring about its economic downfall, wise analysts will shift focus to other nations that are at risk of repeating Spain's mistakes.

Wind and solar are expensive and unreliable. And yet Obama is willing to push the US economy to the edge by favouring wind and solar over more reliable nuclear and coal. The green objections to nuclear have been largely answered by startling new technologies that improve safety and allow for nuclear waste recycling, conversion, and destruction. Even newer technologies are coming that will be even safer, more economical, quicker to market, and less prone to nuclear weapons proliferation.

So why is the US jumping off the cliff? Because Spain did?

There are many niches where solar energy makes sense. Mostly for small scale applications where connecting to the grid is too expensive or inconvenient. Better batteries would create even more niches for solar energy. But for large and intermediate scale utility power, nuclear (and clean coal IGCC CHP) is the technology of the future.

For small scale power (under 100 MW) cellulosic electricity is beginning to make sense. See Al Fin Energy for more.

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30 August 2009

Wildfire and Human Violence

In the forest, on the plains, across the prairie and mountainside -- there is a history of fire that stretches back farther than life. Natural wildfires sweep through the countryside, clearing away debris and nature's offal, making way for a clean start, new growth. Fire is a part of nature.

Humans use fire for their own purposes, but they wish to keep fire confined. As humans build their estates deeper and deeper into countryside that has been subject to periodic cleansing by fire, the natural human tendency is to prevent wild, unconfined fire at all cost, year after year.

Whenever humans have prevented the natural cycle, or have attempted to freeze nature into one particular arrangement in time, they have set the stage to reap hell on Earth. By interrupting the natural cycle of cleansing by wildfire and subsequent re-growth, humans allow the accumulation of fuel to grow so dense and explosive that when the inevitable fire does sweep through, there is very little left behind, for starting over.

Likewise, wherever humans walked the Earth, there is a history of violence that sweeps back through history to the beginning of homo and beyond. Natural disagreements would escalate into fights. The energy to sustain the fight would soon be exhausted, life would go on. Sometimes old coalitions would often be swept aside, making way for something new.

Human societies have come a long way from their violent pasts, but human nature still retains all the violent impulses that causes murder and war. As civilisations developed, and humans came to live closely packed amongst one another in cities, it was in the interests of the ruling classes to confine violence into a restricted volume of space, away from the main. Certain neighborhoods were left alone to fend for themselves. Men who were naturally good at fighting were recruited for armies. Dangerous men who could not be controlled were either confined in prisons, or ended up as rulers themselves.

Human societies use violence for their own purposes, but they try to keep it contained. Inevitably, violence spills out of containment, and society must try to deal with it. When society tries to suppress all violence, the problem may be swept under the rug temporarily. Disagreements that might ordinarily grow into physical fights are suppressed, sometimes brutally and beyond all reason. The underlying disagreements often simmer over time into bitter resentments. Then as its fuel supply builds, resentment flares up into bloody battles and outright war.

When society enforces laws that perpetuate and inflame natural resentments -- yet attempts to confine all disagreement to sanctioned arenas where the conclusion is foegone -- the ability of that society to maintain control grows more tenuous by the day.

Violence is currently bursting through the seams of containment by way of youth gangs and religious gangs. Much of modern violence has an ethnic component -- as when ethnic minorities across Europe, Oceania, and North America commit a wildly inordinate amount of crime. Crime committed by minority populations is committed against other minorities, and often against weak members of the majority -- such as rape. It is possible (perhaps likely) that the threshold for violence is largely genetic, more easily triggered by environment when particular alleles are active.

Wildfires in nature can be prevented and minimised by particular preventative measures, such as controlled burns, regular cleanup of undergrowth, controlled logging and periodic clearing of forests, etc. In some cases, humans should probably evacuate particular areas of wilderness.

Uncontained violence in humans can be similarly prevented or minimised, using ethical prudence, compassion, wisdom, and common sense. Hotbeds of violence should not be ignored or patronised. They should be confronted and evaluated dispassionately. They should not be fertilised and then fanned into flames, as has been the case in western countries over the past few decades.

Violent impulses are far more common for some than others. They are more common for males than females. They are more common for the pubertal and post-pubertal young, than for the old. They are more common for some ethnic groups and religions than for others.

Better ways of safely expending and sublimating that violence can be developed, than our current crop of video games, spectator sports, and other sanctioned arenas of violence.


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28 August 2009

No Sunspots Throw Climate Models Into Disarray

Modern climate models make many erroneous assumptions. Bad assumptions lead to errors in inference, when examining model output. One of the most significant data crimes of modern climate modelers is in ignoring the variability of Sol, our variable star.Fortunately, real scientists (not mere modelers) are beginning to examine the very real climate effects that arise from the solar energy flux when going from solar maximum to solar minimum.
A new study in the journal Science by a team of international of researchers led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research have found that the sunspot cycle has a big effect on the earth's weather. The puzzle has been how fluctuations in the sun's energy of about 0.1 percent over the course of the 11-year sunspot cycle could affect the weather? The press release describing the new study explains:

The team first confirmed a theory that the slight increase in solar energy during the peak production of sunspots is absorbed by stratospheric ozone. The energy warms the air in the stratosphere over the tropics, where sunlight is most intense, while also stimulating the production of additional ozone there that absorbs even more solar energy. Since the stratosphere warms unevenly, with the most pronounced warming occurring at lower latitudes, stratospheric winds are altered and, through a chain of interconnected processes, end up strengthening tropical precipitation.

At the same time, the increased sunlight at solar maximum causes a slight warming of ocean surface waters across the subtropical Pacific, where Sun-blocking clouds are normally scarce. That small amount of extra heat leads to more evaporation, producing additional water vapor. In turn, the moisture is carried by trade winds to the normally rainy areas of the western tropical Pacific, fueling heavier rains and reinforcing the effects of the stratospheric mechanism.

The top-down influence of the stratosphere and the bottom-up influence of the ocean work together to intensify this loop and strengthen the trade winds. As more sunshine hits drier areas, these changes reinforce each other, leading to less clouds in the subtropics, allowing even more sunlight to reach the surface, and producing a positive feedback loop that further magnifies the climate response.

These stratospheric and ocean responses during solar maximum keep the equatorial eastern Pacific even cooler and drier than usual, producing conditions similar to a La Nina event. However, the cooling of about 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit is focused farther east than in a typical La Nina, is only about half as strong, and is associated with different wind patterns in the stratosphere.
We are currently experiencing a rather unusual transition from solar cycle 23 to cycle 24. Sunspots have been very slow in appearing, and solar scientists are at a loss to explain why all of their predictions for the current cycle transition have failed.
...something is unusual about the current sunspot cycle. The current solar minimum has been unusually long, and with more than 670 days without sunspots through June 2009, the number of spotless days has not been equaled since 1933 (see http:// users . telenet .be/ j . janssens/ Spotless/ Spotless .html). The solar wind is reported to be in a uniquely low energy state since space measurements began nearly 40 years ago [Fisk and Zhao, 2009].

Why is a lack of sunspot activity interesting? During the period from 1645 to 1715, the Sun entered a period of low activity now known as the Maunder Minimum, when through several 11- year periods the Sun displayed few if any sunspots. Models of the Sun’s irradiance suggest that the solar energy input to the Earth decreased during that time and that this change in solar activity could explain the low temperatures recorded in Europe during the Little Ice Age [Lean et al., 1992]. _Eos_PDF_via_Reason
Real scientists are teaching the climate modelers a lesson: models are not the climate. Climate models are merely hypotheses in mathematics and computer code. They have to be thoroughly tested by scientific observations, before society is massively disrupted to suit the models.

Climate catastrophists wish to skip the normal steps of the scientific method, and pass from hypothesis directly to a massive overhaul of society and economy. I can hear you saying, "but that is sheer folly!!" Yes, I quite agree, but unfortunately, the US government has recently fallen into a quagmire of folly. Escape from the quagmire will not come easily.

Daily solar photos and solar status are available from SpaceWeather.

Update 28 Aug 2009, Further Reading:
How Small Fluctuations in Solar Radiation Lead to Large Climate Effects

The Oceans Really Are Getting Cooler

The Idiots and Their "Collapsing Ice Sheets"

Why the Oceans are such a good measure of Earth's heat content

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27 August 2009

Russia, Still a Third World Country in Many Ways

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Tuberculosis, an ancient killer once considered under control, is experiencing a new resurgence in Russia. For reasons known only to Russian government functionaries, the Russian government neglected to order new supplies of anti-TB drugs. The result was entirely predictable:
MOSCOW -- Russia's severe tuberculosis problem is about to get much worse, increasing the risk that the dangerous drug-resistant strains that are common here will spread, causing outbreaks elsewhere, local health officials and other experts warn.

Preliminary surveys have recorded an uptick in infections, which experts say could be the start of a surge fueled by declining living standards and deteriorating medical care resulting from the country's worst economic slowdown in a decade.

But Russian officials and health specialists also blame the government's failure to order supplies of key medicines last year, a blunder that could strengthen antibiotic-resistant forms of TB and threaten wealthier countries that have all but eradicated the disease.

Russia already has one of the highest rates of TB in the world. In parts of its Far East, the infection rate is three times what the World Health Organization considers epidemic levels. The government has made progress in recent years, with infection rates falling from a peak in 2000, but health officials are worried that those gains are now in jeopardy.

Preliminary state statistics show the rate of infection growing from 83.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2007 to 85.2 in 100,000 last year, and anecdotal evidence from hospitals and clinics around the country suggests that the numbers are still climbing.

By comparison, the infection rate in the United States is about 8 in 100,000, with about 0.2 percent of American TB cases ending in death. In Russia, about 18 percent of TB patients die of the disease, according to WHO figures. _WaPo_via_LaRussophobe
As the ethnic Russian population dies away, and is replaced by third world tribal people, the health and industrial infrastructure of the country can be expected to shrivel. It is not an image of Russia that one wishes to cling to, but it will not go away unless the travesty that is modern Russia experiences drastic reform.

More on Russia's woes at abu al-fin.


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100 Ways to Tap Into Your Larger Brain

We are much more than our everyday habitual selves -- but we often let our deep well of potential go untapped. Most Al Fin readers have already discovered that their conscious, everyday minds are just a small fraction of their brain / mind sphere of existence.

Amber Johnson has provided us with 100 Ways You Can Tap Into More of Your Brain. The list includes dozens of links to articles which elaborate on the basic themes of the list. Take a look for yourself, and you are likely to find your interest raised.

I would like to add laughing, and sex to the list. Sex itself can be quite humorous, so the two actually fit well together.

Also, spend time with people who are significantly younger than yourself. Absorb some of that freshness and newness in your approach to the world.

What are you waiting for? 100 ways to make your life more interesting and full, are nothing to sneeze about.


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26 August 2009

SAT Scores Fall, Illegitimacy Rates Rise

Educators want to know why SAT scores continue to fall in most segments of the US high school test taking population. They particularly wish to know why scores are rising among Asian-Americans at the same time they are falling in other ethnic groups -- particulary among African Americans.
Data on the breakdowns by race and ethnicity show a widening gap between Asian American test takers and other groups. Adding all three portions of the SAT, Asian Americans gained 13 points, while American Indians gained 2 points and all others lost. Last year, Asian Americans led only with the mathematics average, but this year their average score overtook that of white students on writing, too.

These ethnic gaps are crucial for both educational reasons and political ones. Many of the growing number of colleges that are going SAT-optional have expressed discomfort with tests on which there are such stark -- and growing -- differences in averages by race and ethnicity. _InsideHigherEd
Some educational consultants suggest that the "Asian Advantage" should be studied, and -- if possible -- bottled for resale.

Al Fin readers understand that East Asian IQs average a third of a standard deviation higher than European IQs, which average one full standard deviation higher than African American IQs. But there is more to the educational and test score gaps than raw intelligence. There is also the issue of family support and encouragement.

The illegitimacy rates for births among African Americans is roughly 70%. Among Hispanic Americans it is near 50%. Among European Americans the illegitimacy rate is around 30%, and among Asian Americans it is under 10%.

A child that starts out with a father is more likely to stay out of poverty, out of prison, off of welfare, and less likely to contribute to illegitimacy and the cycle of poverty himself. In other words, illegitimacy contributes to poverty and poverty in turn can perpetuate illegitimacy -- if the poverty is internalised into the child's psyche.

Scores in all categories increased with the family's income level. Part of this difference may be attributed to a greater use of professional test prep materials and services by upper middle class and upper class students. But motivated parents and students can download professional grade test prep materials from the internet, and work together to provide preparation without spending large sums of money.

Of course single parents without family support themselves will find it difficult to go the extra mile to help their children.

It is too easy to blame underachievement of NAMs on low IQ. Illegitimacy and lack of commitment to family can account for a significant part of achievement gaps. If a parent can teach his child "grit" and determination, they will have done at least half their job. But they have to be there.

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Peak Oil: So Stupid It's Not Even Wrong?

[An] argument — that the “easy oil” is gone and that extraction can only become more difficult and cost-ineffective — should be recognized as vague and irrelevant. Drillers in Persia a century ago certainly didn’t consider their work easy, and the mechanized, computerized industry of today is a far sight from 19th-century mule-drawn rigs. Hundreds of fields that produce “easy oil” today were once thought technologically unreachable. _NYT
As the author of the above NYT OpEd points out, peak oil doomists have too much at stake to look at both sides of the production and reserves equation. For peak oil fanatics, every jump in the price of oil is further proof that "the peak has passed!". "Over half the oil has already been pumped, all the easy oil is gone, and prices can only go up!", they keep saying time and again -- only to be proved wrong time and again.

Once an idea has infiltrated deeply enough into a human's thoughtways, it cannot be easily exfiltrated. But if the brain is alive and open to the outside world and its reality, it can happen. Just like oil wells that were once considered exhausted are now frequently found to produce as much or more using improved technologies as they produced originally. This will continue to be the case for most of this century.
Easy oil is probably running out because it was the first to be discovered and burned. But it wasn’t so “easy” when it was discovered. By the same token, the difficult oil of today will be tomorrow’s easy oil, thanks to the learning curve of technology expertise. Overall, “difficult oil” exploitation will be the survival and even prosperity key for many Western oil companies in a world that will be increasingly dominated by national oil companies.

It will take time, but I dare to make a prediction. By 2030 more than 50 percent of the known oil will be recoverable. Also, by that time the amount of known oil will have grown significantly, and a larger portion of unconventional oils will be commonly produced, bringing the total amount of recoverable reserves to something between 4,500 billion to 5,000 billion barrels of oil. What’s more, a significant part of “new reserves” will not come from new discoveries, but from a new ability to better exploit what we already have.

To be sure, by 2030 we will have consumed another 650 billion to 700 billion barrels of our reserves, for a total of around 1,600 billion barrels used up from the 4,500 billion to 5,000 billion figure. Yet, if my estimates are correct, we will have oil for the rest of the 21st Century._ScientificAmerican
Of course the oil markets themselves will remain volatile for as long as oil remains so irreplaceable. The oil markets will move up -- sometimes dramtically -- and they will move down. All of that will be based more upon socio-politico-economic events than upon the accessible supplies of oil in the ground.

The peak oil craze has much in common with the carbon climate catastrophe craze, and the population penetrance of the two fanaticisms tends to overlap significantly. But neither is based upon sound science, and both are largely driven by political and economic undercurrents -- out of sight of most unwitting adherents.

A relatively smooth transition into the post-oil era will require the use of a wide range of fossil fuel reserves -- including offshore oil, shale oil, oil sands, coal, gas, etc. The energy starvation approach of the Obama / Pelosi reich is not benefiting anyone except the prophets, politicians, and profit-takers of doom. The Obama / Pelosi policies are creating and worsening the scarcities the doomseekers have predicted. Political peak oil, political energy choke off.

And while Obama is using scarce US resources to prop up oil companies in Latin America, agents of his own reich are preventing US oil companies from engaging in the same type of offshore drilling that the latin companies are receiving Obama dollars to build up.

At this point, Obama's energy and economic policies are as disjointed as a cubist portrait, and as dysfunctional as an Arab or African government. One might even call the man a clown, if one were feeling particularly prejudicial toward clowns at the time.

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24 August 2009

Upcoming Conferences of Interest

SENS4 Cambridge, England 3-7 September 2009

EMP Threat Niagara Falls 8-10 Sept 2009

AIAA Space 2009 Pasadena 14-17 Sept 2009

2nd Seasteading Conference San Francisco 28-30 Sept 2009

Singularity Summit NYC 3-4 Oct 2009


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23 August 2009

Shocker! Boys Still Better at Math, Girls at Reading

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Recent test scores from the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) re-affirms the important differences between male and female brains. By the middle of puberty, males show superiority in math and technical science, whereas females demonstrate superior language skills.
Male high school students outperform female high school students for economics, math and science; and female high school students outperform males students in reading and writing. Additionally, the variability of male test performance (and probably intelligence) is greater than the variability of female test performance, and this applies to ALL of the five subjects. In other words, there will probably always be more male than female geniuses (3-4 standard deviations above the mean) and more male than female idiots (3-4 standard deviations below the mean). _MJPerry
Elite male mathematicians and scientists outnumber female elites in those fields by roughly 10:1. To understand more about this question, consult "Sex Differences in Mathematical Aptitude."

Politically connected feminasties such as Nancy Hopkins, Liz Spelke, Donna Shalala etc. may scream from dusk till dawn about the inequity, but the underlying brain differences between male and female have not changed significantly for thousands of years. The government can extend Title IX penalties to science, as it has to athletics, but unless government is prepared to expose female fetuses and infants to male steroid hormones, and expose male fetuses to female hormones, the gap will remain.

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21 August 2009

Crime in American Cities: Looking at Extremes

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MJ Perry links to a site that allows you to compare crime rates between any two US cities with populations above 75,000.

The image above compares Newton, Massachusetts, with Camden, New Jersey. You may wish to compare your current town with other towns you have considered living in.

Below is a comparison of ethnic demographies between Camden, and Newton. There is no particular reason to believe that the correlation is causative. But anyone who wants more information might look at articles by Steve Sailer or Audacious Epigone.

Ethnic demography of Camden New Jersey: African American, 53% ... Hispanic, 38.8%, ... White, 15% ... Asian 2.5% ...

Ethnic demography of Newton, Massachusetts: 88% White, 8% Asian, 2% African American, ....

Is it possible for one to use ethnic composition of cities as a proxy for crime rates? Perhaps. But if you're smart, you'll go to the source and check the actual crime numbers before you relocate. If you can indeed find a community with a wide assortment of ethnicities, plus very low crime rate and high community cohesiveness, cooperation and trust -- you will have hit the motherlode. Go there. Study everything about the place to find out why it works. If only . . . .

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More on Unemployment and its Repercussions

....“it is unlikely we will see meaningful reductions in the foreclosure and delinquency rates until the employment situation improves.” Mr Brinkmann expects the peak in foreclosures to lag the peak in unemployment by around 6 months. _FinancialTimes
Informed analysts are beginning to see unemployment as a leading indicator of things to come, as well as a lagging indicator. This makes their work much more difficult, and casts the US government's so far extravagantly ineffectual interventions in a much more tragicomic light.
The unemployment rate stood at 9.4 percent in July but is expected to peak above 10 percent. That means more foreclosures, which will put a drag on recovery.

"It will definitely slow down the housing market a bit, which will have a corollary effect on the overall economy coming back" to life, Sharga said. _McClatchy
Oh, it will do more than slow down the housing market a bit. The effect of unemployment-caused home foreclosures will reverberate throughout the financial sector and spill over to affect all other sectors dependent upon credit -- including the government.

An interesting article with plenty of accompanying charts to illustrate the problem.

More on housing market woes (via SimoleonSense)

Backers of Obama -- including most of the media and large numbers of big money speculators and investors -- are growing frantic at their Prince's inability to instantly solve economic problems which are increasingly built into the US welfare state. Obama merely promises to enlarge the welfare state, and to integrate even greater self-destruct mechanisms into the works. It is all he knows.

Others who are growing frantic include the oil barons of Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and other dictators who overextended themselves on credit -- based upon spring 2008 oil prices. These blood-on-their-hands gents have to have higher oil prices. But they are stuck between supply and demand. They have many options for cutting oil supply, but how can they crank up demand in a world of economic downturn? It is likely that as supply is artificially cut, oil importing economies will find substitutes for oil, and increase conservation -- as well as cut economic activity even more.

China is beginning to hurt from lack of export markets as well.

So we have all of these unlikely bedfellows who want to jump-start economic activity in the western economies, but don't quite know how to do it.

Well-connected speculators and media barons have been trying to push the market upward using hype and massive denial. Watch the price of oil trying to reach its target of $100 a barrel. Oil supplies have been slowly choked, by dictators and the Obama / Pelosi reich. Pundits have been talking up the price of oil for many weeks now, with very slow progress to show for it.

The US has a government that doesn't understand the very basics of solid economic prosperity. It only understands bubbles and facades. Consequently, bubbles and facades are what the government has in mind, to serve the public. Government enablers, who stand to profit from the grand-scale scam, stand in line to assist in the deception.

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20 August 2009

The Gary North Educational Alternative

The $1 million advantage of college education has slipped away. Now that anyone with brains can get an MIT education online for no cost, paying 30K to 50K a year at a private university for a second rate indoctrination makes no sense -- for parents or their children.
The sad fact is this: most parents don't care about education. They care about accreditation......Parents seek union cards for their children. But there are so many kids with union cards today that the advantage has disappeared.

What should a wise parent do? Keep the child home and away from the bureaucrats. Get the child apprenticed to a local businessman. Have the child quiz out of the entire B.A.

Add an incentive. The child gets $50,000 in cash – or half the total cost of college – as a graduation present. The child pays for his/her college education. The parent saves a bundle, especially considering how many students drop out. The child gets starting capital. Use it for grad school. Use it for starting a business. Use it for down payments on a few repossessed houses.

Meanwhile, Podunk College gets nothing. This is the way it ought to be until it offers something educationally unique and worth the extra money, or else offers its existing run-of-the mill program on-line for a third of the money that it charges today.

Private, campus-based, wildly overpriced colleges with undistinguished academic programs will survive, but only a handful of them will prosper. They function today as expensive marital matchmaking services. There are cheaper ways to marry off your children. They can to use one of these on-line dating services. _GaryNorth
What a person needs to know to succeed can be slippery in an age of rapid change. Being smart helps, as does being determined, and trustworthy. Who you know is always important, and should be factored into decision-making. Having parents who make sure the critical developmental windows are not squandered is particularly important.

Other than that, make sure you or your children develop flexibility and a healthy sense of opportunism. You and they will need it.

Update 21Aug09:  More on the private university bubble


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19 August 2009

Fat Dumb and Stupid's No Way to Go Thru Life Son

After spending trillions on education in the last 40 years, we have absolutely nothing to show for it. SAT scores in reading are lower and math scores are flat with scores in 1972. The general populace is more ignorant, less informed, less curious, and easier to manipulate than they were in 1970. _PrudentBear
Despite the extortion of $500 billion a year from Americans, the US government educational system keeps churning out fat, dumb, and stupid products onto the American job search market. This is not what their parents dreamed of, years ago, when they were exchanging bodily fluids. But they trusted the government, and it is what they got.

Fat, Drunk, and Stupid
Dean Wormer: "0.2. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son. Mr. Hoover, president of Delta House - 1.6. Four C's and an F. A fine example you set. Daniel Simpson Day has no grade point average. All courses incomplete. Mr. Blu- [looks up to see that Bluto has stuck pencils up his nose] Mr. Blutarsky. Zero POINT zero."
─ Scene from Animal House (1978)


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Only 4% of American Blacks Qualified for College

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If one assumes that a person needs an IQ of 115 to qualify for a rigorous university degree, roughly 4% of American blacks would qualify.

The average IQ of American blacks is 85, with a standard deviation of 15. (you will have to shift the curve one standard deviation to the left) An IQ score of 115 is 2 standard deviations above the African American IQ mean. A brief glance at the diagram above (shifted 1 STDV leftward) reveals that over 96% of American blacks would find themselves below the 115 IQ level, leaving only about 4% qualified to meet the challenge.

A look at recent ACT scores of US high school graduates suggests that only 23% of all US HS graduates are qualified to succeed in college with at least a "C" average. The study included graduates of all races and ethnicities, including high scoring East Asians and Jews of European ancestry.If one looks at the SubSaharan African population, with an average population IQ of roughly 70, it is clear that the proportion qualified to succeed in college would be less than 1%. Closer to 0.1%. Consider that, when you foresee the longterm future of SubSaharan Africa without assistance from China, Europe, or the Anglosphere.

IQ is less important overall than Executive Function (EF), for life success. But both qualities are highly heritable, and the most potent training window for EF has passed by the age of 7. The best training windows for other cognitive traits that affect one's IQ score have not been precisely determined. In other words, if the best educational systems in the world neglect the training of their young, what expectations can you have for African schools?

Many communities of American blacks have become pockets of the third world, with all the crime, corruption, and inherent dysfunctionality that is included. Not only are heritable IQs and EFs lower than in surrounding communities, educational systems and societal role models and institutions are also deficient -- so that training cannot make up for whatever inherited deficiencies are present. A large proportion of students will never graduate HS, and of those who do, a very low percentage will go to college. If society decides to promote these HS graduates to schools above their level of preparation and innate talent, failure is virtually guaranteed.

A multicultural society containing population groups of varying talent and functionality, will always suffer from civil dissatisfaction and disorder. How the society reacts to the inherent inequality and resulting dissatisfaction depends upon the society's own level of wisdom and maturity. Preferential treatment and promotion beyond qualification is one of the least wise and mature approaches.

Addendum: Can the average IQ of Subsaharan Africans really be as low as 70?
Critics of the finding that the average African IQ is 70 say that it simply must be wrong. They insist that biased testing procedures must have been used, even though dozens of separate studies have corroborated the results from East, West, Central, and Southern Africa. For Example, one 1992 study carried out for the World Bank reported that a random sample of 1,639 adolescents in the West African country of Ghana had an average IQ of 60.

In 1998, I went to Johannesburg, South Africa, to initiate a 5-year series of IQ studies in the university system to determine whether such a low IQ was accurate. I, too, wondered how well all the previous data had been collected, if sufficient care were taken in giving instructions, ensuring motivation, having a quiet room for testing, or giving enough time to complete the tests.

First, I contacted psychologists in the Faculty of Education at the University of the Witwatersrand (all anti-apartheid liberals) and together we tested hundreds of students of African, East Indian, White, and East Asian backgrounds, along with those of mixed ancestry, under optimal testing procedures, using culture reduced tests. We used a large, quiet, well-lit, well-ventilated examination room with desks spaced far enough apart to prevent copying or feeling crowded. As I walked up and down the aisles watching the students diligently at work, it was plain to see they were well-motivated.

We used the Raven’s Matrices, one of the best known, well researched, and most widely used of all the culture-reduced tests. Consisting of 60 diagrammatic puzzles, each with a missing part that the test taker attempts to identify from several choices, it is an excellent measure of the non-verbal component of general intelligence. Typically, the test is so easy for university students that they do it in less than 20 minutes. We set no time limit for the test. All those being tested were allowed to complete it.

We found African university students averaged an IQ of 84. In some studies, by other researchers, they have scored lower (IQ = 77). In still others of our studies, highly-selected engineering students who took math and science courses in high school scored higher (IQ = 103).

Assuming that, like university students elsewhere, the African university students on average score 15 points above the general population, the African general population average of about 70 would appear to be corroborated. _VDare

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18 August 2009

As Unemployment Grows, So Do Foreclosures

The country's growing unemployment is overtaking subprime mortgages as the main driver of foreclosures, according to bankers and economists, threatening to send even higher the number of borrowers who will lose their homes and making the foreclosure crisis far more complicated to unwind.

Economists estimate that 1.8 million borrowers will lose their homes this year, up from 1.4 million last year, according to Moody's Economy.com. And the government, which has already committed billions of dollars to foreclosure-prevention efforts, has found it far more difficult to help people who have lost their paychecks than those whose mortgage payments became unaffordable because of an interest-rate increase. _WaPovia_News Alert
Unemployment is growing, and it is driving the steady rise in home foreclosures across the US. What started as a financial crisis driven largely by defaulting subprime mortgages, is turning into something deeper and much harder to repair.
Last year, about 40 percent of borrowers who sought help at NeighborWorks, a large housing counseling group, cited unemployment or a pay cut as a primary reason for their delinquency. Now it is about 65 percent. The number citing a subprime loan fell significantly.

"Rising unemployment, for the sake of this downturn, has magnified things considerably," said John Snyder, manager of foreclosure programs for NeighborWorks. "It's less about the payment adjustment."

When a subprime borrower becomes delinquent because of a hefty payment increase, the fix often involves lowering the interest rate to its original level. Unemployment poses a more difficult challenge, industry officials and consumer advocates said. During extended periods of joblessness, the borrower accrues large late fees that drive up monthly payments. And a new job often comes with lower pay, making it more difficult to catch up. _WaPo
Wags will try to dispel worry by telling you that "unemployment lags the stock market in a recovery." What they say is generally true -- unless, of course, it is unemployment itself which is driving the recession. In that case, it may be the stock market that lags unemployment -- on the way down.

Banks and financial institutions across much of the US are already in trouble, sucking up hundreds of billions of dollars of US government hijacked funds. And that sucking noise? It could be getting louder soon.

We are seeing what happens when investors and speculators use stimulus and bailout money to try to artificially jump-start markets -- and secondarily the economy. The great "recovery" appears to be fizzling out, for now. As ever more funds and resources are diverted from the private sector to the politically connected sectors (Obama supporters), the sucking sound keeps getting louder. And jobs continue being lost.

When a country is ruled by clowns and incompetent fools, the fundamentals of a sound economy are forgotten and ignored. A healthy economy is healthy from bottom to top. Artificial bubbles of the type Obama has been attempting to inflate, look good on paper if you can pull them off, but tend to suck wealth from the middle class and convey it to political insiders on the way to the upper class.

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17 August 2009

Saving Our Crumbling Urban Landscape

Cities of the western world are beginning to collapse from the inside out. As criminal and other non-productive classes displace the productive classes, large cities across the developed world are watching their inner cores crumble. Inner city redesign, refurbishing, and gentrification can only be successful in the long term if the city's tax base can be maintained -- and its crime and unemploment rates kept under control.
One answer is to build a new industrial city focusing on small scale craft and specialty manufacturing with high value added. We're seeing a precursor to this in the rise of [urban] organic farming and artisanal products of all kinds. TV shows featuring hip young carpenters renovating homes or gearheads tricking out cars and motorcycles make these professions seem glamorous. Magazines targeted at the global elite like Monocle scour the world in favor of the finest handcrafted products from old school workshops, building demand for these products. The New York Times Magazine recently did an article making the case for working with your hands, and also noted how digitally oriented designers are rediscovering the use of their hands. Perhaps it is no surprise that sociologist Richard Sennett turned his attention to the idea of the craftsman. In short, making things, craftsmanship, and quality are back in fashion.

The challenge for urban economies is to develop [a new industrial city] and put it on a sound industrial and economic footing. One key might be to inspire people to start these craft oriented businesses by tapping into people's desire to purchase ethical and sustainable products. We increasingly see with foods and other items that people want to understand their provenance, to know who made them, how, with what, and under what conditions. Often today businesses catering to this desire are small scale “Mom and Pop” type operations, but there is no reason they can't be done at greater scale, or expanded into areas like organic food processing, not just organic farming. American Apparel has done just that by manufacturing low cost, stylish clothing “Made in Downtown Los Angeles. Sweatshop Free.” at scale, for example.

Beyond craft products, reinvigorating small scale, specialty fabrication and other businesses, to rebuild an American version of Germany’s Mittlesand, creates another, often ignored option for urban economies. Quality, flexibility, responsiveness, and a willingness to do small runs are keys. These businesses can also underpin product companies higher in the value chain. They start building an ecosystem of local companies and expertise that can be useful for related or spin-off businesses. Jane Jacobs, and before her the great French historian Fernand Braudel, noted how cities could incubate many new enterprises because all the diverse products and services they needed were available locally. If you need to scour the globe looking for custom parts and services, it can quickly overwhelm a small business. _NewGeographic
The developed world is learning that outsourcing all of its manufacturing and production may not be the best idea. While China has built a large cash surplus by acting as the west's surrogate manufacturing sector, many regions of the western world have gone from prosperous to quasi-impoverished.

City planners and managers need to begin thinking in terms of "city-state" operations. Helping to develop local and regional sources for raw materials, food, and manufactured goods can improve the bottom line for both the city and the surrounding countryside.

One of the less considered products for local and regional production, is energy. But with the coming of bioenergy, more of a region's energy supply may well be accessible at close range.

Food, energy, housing, sanitation, education, medical care, entertainment, recreation, manufactured goods, large construction . . . Most cities are better suited for some of the above than others. But with a bit of imagination and better technologies, cities may be able to supply a larger portion of their own needs -- and boost their faltering economies at the same time.

The demographic problem -- the shrinking numbers of the innately talented with the rising numbers of the less talented -- will continue to be a challenge for Europe and North America. But persons of lower innate talent (lower IQ and EF) can be much better educated and trained than at present. By completely transforming and reforming our outmoded educational system and replacing it with a 21st century approach free of union thugs and government bureaucrats, the crime and unemployment figures can be improved even in the face of the ongoing demographic transition.

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16 August 2009

Always the Doom You Don't Expect That Gets You

Synthetic biology involves the production of novel living organisms that are self-replicating and potentially uncontrollable if something goes wrong.....

QUEST on KQED Public Media.
A .... concern is the deliberate construction and release of a pathogen more virulent and transmissible than anything in nature. The perpetrator might be a malevolent individual with a knowledge of synthetic biology or a terrorist group seeking the ultimate bioweapon. Fuelling such fears is the rapidly growing availability of BioBricks and other “standard biological parts”, which enable even undergraduates to engineer their own microbes.

We probably have at least five years grace before synthetic biology has reached the point... FT
.... where it can destroy our current gullible faith in the safety of the commons. We may have five years. Sooner or later, resentful child-men and child-women will have the power to turn the life-giving air, water, food, and biosphere of the planet into agents of certain death -- or worse.

Synthetic biology will have to learn how to manipulate much more than DNA and genomes to become truly dangerous, of course. Without the epigenome and other components of life, the genome is an empty shell.
Epigenetics, a relatively new endeavor in science, refers to the control of the patterns of gene expression in cells, which gives rise to the necessary differences responsible for creating the complex and interacting tissues in the body.

Scientists globally have begun working on a Human Epigenome Project in a bid to compile detailed data documenting, within a person, the epigenetic changes in different types of cells and tissues, something that will complement the already-completed Human Genome Project. _Source
Links and video via Machines Like Us

We are accustomed to breathing from a common air supply, drinking from a common water supply, eating from a common food supply, and immersing ourselves in a common biosphere. In the not-so-distant future, humans may have to jettison this childlike faith in the safety of the bio-commons, and take steps to assure the safety of our own food, water, and air supplies. On a local -- even household -- level. Mass society could become a thing of the past, as multiple existential threats simultaneously sever the threads of trust that presently hold cultures and societies together.

Who will prevent this dissolution of trust and safety? Not the clueless clowns of the present US governmental reich. They are too busy destroying political enemies and grabbing as much political power as possible, to even consider attending to real world existential threats. The type of competence required to anticipate, interdict, and prevent such threats, is in very short supply -- and little valued in the current political / academic / media climate.

It is up to individuals and groups working outside the mainstream, to devise protective solutions to these somewhat probable threats. Fortunately, many genuinely useful preventative measures apply almost equally to a wide range of existential threats.

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15 August 2009

Al Fin's 2009 Small Vehicle Survival Award Winner

The HovPod personal hovercraft is built for durability and versatile travel on all types of terrain. From water to mud to sand to ice to snow to pavement, this little package is not just for exhilaration and mirth. It can get you places few other craft can take you, quickly and economically.

If you need a quick evac out of a gridlocked city that is located on a river, coastline, or harbour, this little airboat is the next best thing to a personal helicopter that can put down on land or water.

Al Fin engineers are working on a fairly simple modification which will allow the HovPod to fly, using inflatable wings. Put simply, it will require more power, and hull materials with more favourable strength to weight characteristics. More on that option as developments allow.

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14 August 2009

Drink a Drop of Caution With That Financial Bullshit

via SimoleonSense

The New Bull Market Fallacy (via SimoleonSense)

Not So Green Shoots (via Instapundit)

Equities Market a Mess

Toxic Loans Threaten US Banks

Government Drunk, Destructive, and Belligerent on Public Spending
The government can either: (1) adopt fiscal discipline, (2) default on its debts, or (3) use the printing press to inflate away the debt. Given the particularly undisciplined nature of the current reich, expect first inflation and then default. Discipline will not return to government until after a radical re-structuring of Obama / Pelosi's radical restructuring can take place.


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10 August 2009

40 Million Years of Uranium, at 10X Current Use

Image Source
And there is more than 3X as much Thorium as Uranium in Earth's crust. According to Brian Wang, there is an estimated 40 trillion tons of Uranium in Earth's crust, and over 120 trillion tons of Thorium. Only 67,000 tons of Uranium are "consumed" yearly. If rational fuel enrichment and re-cycling is incorporated into the fission cycle, Earth would never run out of fissionable uranium.

The Thorium cycle is safer and less prone to weapons proliferation. Fortunately, we have over 100 million years worth of Thorium.

But talking about millions of years of nuclear fission is simply silly, considering the likelihood that scalable nuclear fusion will be practical sometime in the next 20 to 30 years. How much would the world change in the face of abundant nuclear fusion energy?
Fully developing the capabilities of nuclear fusion and nanofactories and accessing these resources in the solar system is the end of scarcity scenario. _BrianWang's NextBigFuture
Brian is quite correct: the combination of abundant fusion energy with perfected molecular nano-assemblers would mean the end of scarcity in the human world -- for a period of time.

But the mean human IQ of planet Earth is now less than 90. In 40 years Earth's mean IQ is likely to be in the middle or lower 80's, if current demographic trends continue. The combination of abundant energy, abundant wealth, hyper-advanced technologies, AND LOW AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE, is a deadly mix. Unscrupulous politicians -- similar to those now ruling North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, or Iran -- would find a way to control access to energy, wealth, and technology. The politically connected would live better than any king or emperor throughout human history. The great masses of common people -- those who are not imprisoned in work camps, psychiatric institutions, or torture facilities for dissent or thinking disloyal thoughts about the great leader du jour -- are likely to suffer, as they always have.

Human nature is not likely to change in the world at large. Humans are not going to grow more intelligent, on average. New technologies of wealth and power will be controlled by insiders, in most countries. They will be used to enrich the inner circle, and to control everyone else.

If the dieoff.orgiast gang of militant greens happen to be in control of the countries where cornucopian technologies are developed, they will find themselves -- at last -- in a position to correct all the evils of man about which they have bitterly complained for so long.

Read Brian's article carefully and you will see that he has included warnings and cautions, along with optimism. Brian's blog is one of the resources of the Lifeboat Foundation, after all. The Lifeboat Foundation is all about keeping human civilisation going in the face of the wide range of existential threats of the future -- manmade and otherwise.

With great opportunity comes great danger.

Peak oil catastrophe is for dummies, to be sure. Like climate catastrophe, it is a political contrivance. But sometimes abundance can be a greater threat than scarcity. We need to be prepared.

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Higher Education Overinflated

According to a Forbes.com article, college tuition has increased by more than three times the rate of inflation over the last 20 years, despite flat-lining U.S. wages. The average tuition at a private four-year school is up 6.6% yearly in 2007 to $23,712, according to the College Board. . .

And it could haunt students and America for years to come. _WealthDaily
According to the College Board in early 2009, total student loan borrowing more than doubled between 1998 and 2008. The numbers are staggering. We're talking about $85 billion in loans, as compared to $41 billion ten years ago.

Privately funded student loans have risen, too, from 7% in 1998 to 23% of all student loans in 2008. It makes for quite a brew for cash-strapped Americans this year, who are already saddled with unemployment and loss of income. Sallie Mae, for example, had a delinquency rate of 9.4% in Q3 2008, as compared to a rate of 8.5% just a year earlier.

I'm willing to bet that rate gaps higher as the months go by.

The student loan market has been, is, and will be riddled with trouble. Expect higher default rates, as students can't pay back these loans. Still, we'll look to profit from their demise. _WealthDaily
College education is a multi-faceted scandal, crying for alternatives and correctives. Rather than a place to prepare students to meet life's challenges, universities have become dumbed down indoctrination centers and refuges from responsibility -- where students learn and teach dysfunctionality on a grand scale. An educational system fit for a crumbling civilisation, to be sure.

What are the alternatives? Independent certification agencies, which can certify knowledge and expertise across a wide array of professional, vocational, and academic / scholarly / research areas. Universities practise grade inflation, social promotion, affirmative action, and other non-meritocratic policies, which destroys the credibility of many university degrees in the eyes of employers and the public.

University has become bad, overpriced theatre. Farce, if you will. As the cost of university explodes, the value shrinks. All of society participates in this expensive and destructive farce.


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06 August 2009

Peak Oil: Meet North Dakota Oil

North Dakota as an oil patch state? Yes, probably in a decade or less. The state’s Three Forks-Sanish formation could rival nearby Bakken Play, a vast oil shale field. Together they could hold 200 billion barrels of oil, about four times Alaska’s entire oil cache. That’s enough black gold to provide the equivalent of 30 years’ worth of U.S. oil needs at current usage levels, without having to import one barrel from abroad. _Kiplinger_via_NewsAlert
We have heard a lot about North Dakota's Bakken Play -- particularly from Brian Wang's NextBigFuture. But larger oil fields wait to be tapped as the technology of oil discovery, exploration, and extraction is improved. Peak oil catastrophe dogma relies upon ignorance of remaining oil reserves, for credibility. As long as the profit motive is allowed to function in free societies, however, energy technologies will improve to exploit the abundant reserves of energy that wait unseen in the world around us.

Universities, the media, and the green political-industrial complex are united in the goal of energy starvation and industrial choke-off, along with population die-off. All of the policies of the Obama / Pelosi reich revolve around that underlying theme. Under the policies of the ruling reich, businesses will die, employment will plummet, home ownership will continue melting away, and power will continue to consolidate to the politically connected.

Peak oil catastrophe and climate catastrophe are two useful facades to facilitate the agenda. North Dakota is an awkward counterpoint to the talking points. There will be more -- many more. This is a time for those persons who have escaped the academic and media camps with their intellectual curiosity intact, to start paying attention. Things are soon to become interesting.

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05 August 2009

Can City-States Save the Third World?

Paul Romer (via A Thousand Nations) describes a system of "Charter Cities" distributed about the third world, modeled after Hong Kong and Singapore. These chartered city-states would be "in the third world but not of the third world." In other words, the rule of law and economic dynamism in these city-states would provide an environment of living and choice distinctly different from the squalid and corrupt living conditions currently prominent across the third world.

In fact there is a Charter Cities blog that provides much more information about this topic. If you are interested in the concept of city-states and how cities drive the economies of the world, check out the blog and the video above.

Trying to save the third world is well and good. But at this time, the first world itself is in a quite precarious position. Demographically, the populations that fueled the rapid improvement of living conditions in the developed world are shrinking. Social programs that are dependent upon large numbers of younger generation taxpayers appear to be losing their financial support. Educational systems that once provided vital grist for the mills of progress, have been corrupted into special interest bureaucracies of indoctrination. Vital resources that should be invested in future technologies and industries are being squandered on phantom crises created from fudged data and faulty models.

If the vital core of the developed world is to survive current suicidal tendencies by the majority of its citizens, it may well need to learn some vital lessons from the charter cities movement. For example, what type of "charter" would protect a city from being carried away in a lemming's rush by all too frequent "popular delusions and madness of crowds"? Such chaotic fads and fashions of disaster and quasi-suicide are all too frequent.

Romer's vision of saving the third world with charter cities is bold and courageous in comparison to the dieoff.orgiasts of the left who dominate large parts of the developed world's governmental, academic, and media infrastructures. It is a vision worth observing to see what comes of it. But it contains elements of wisdom that first worlders could learn from in their own planning for the future.

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04 August 2009

Executive Function, Intelligence, Talent, and Grit

“I’d bet that there isn’t a single highly successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” says Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who helped pioneer the study of grit. “Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do.” _Globe
The linked Globe article above takes a fascinating look at "grit", the human trait of setting goals and persisting in finding a way to achieve the goals against all obstacles. The successful application of grit is virtually indistinguishable from well-tempered "executive function."
Goal-setting, planning, organizing, attending, sequencing, problem-solving, and self-monitoring are all aspects of something called "executive function." This part of our cognition is primarily housed in the frontal lobes of the brain. _Examiner
Executive function (EF) has been found to be at least as important to life success as a person's IQ. Some overlap exists between EF and IQ, but they are not the same thing.

Given the significant heritability of both EF and IQ, one might be excused for believing that mental talent is largely innate. But it is impossible to separate genes from environment. Much "innate talent" is never developed. And sometimes sheer energy and persistence can compensate for shortcomings in innate talent.
We are not a world cruelly divided between the innately-gifted and the destined-to-be-mediocre. Rather, every human being is a reservoir of talent waiting to be successfully tapped.

"Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake," declared the 19th century American philosopher William James. "...We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources." _Genius Blog
It is certainly not true that a person can do anything he wants to do -- particularly a person with an IQ less than 90 and poor executive function. But persons of lesser intelligence may accomplish significantly more than a person of greater intelligence -- if they learn to set goals, and have the grit and imagination to reach the goals despite obstacles.

If the K-12 educational system taught nothing else but goal-setting and grit, the quality of its graduates would improve immensely over the tremendous underachievement currently seen.

It is quite possible, however, that grit and EF can be better taught at home by parents, or by playing videogames or role playing games, than by attending school. It is quite possible that generations of Americans living before mandatory schooling were significantly grittier than subsequent generations who were confined indoors several hours a day with age-cohorts, at the mercy of the "pedagogy du jour".

The demographic trend of US and Canadian society is quite clear. European ethnicities are declining, and non-European ethnicities are growing via immigration and differential birthrates. If we do nothing to increase the EF and "grit" of non-European residents, it is unlikely that the US and Canada will be able to field the talent necessary to fully bridge the gap between the age of scarcity and the coming age of technology fueled cornucopia. East and South Asians have demonstrated high skills in science, technology, and commerce / industry -- but the majority of new immigrants are from elsewhere. Their innate talents do not measure up to those of their European predecessors or their Asian co-immigrants.

If the limits of innateness are to be overcome, a prodigious amount of effort must be expended by many areas of society, including schools, families, popular media, and other facets of mainstream culture. Without that effort, the limits of innateness will be impossible to ignore and disregard.

It is too early to tell how successful we may be with improved methods of imparting grit and EF, along with better ways of teaching competencies and knowledge. We have a long way to go on all fronts. But we should have gotten started correcting these shortcomings long ago, if we wanted to reverse some quite catastrophic trends.

We need technologies that allow us to accomplish these things without the help of Education Departments, and teachers' unions. Those vested interests care only for power and bureaucratic longevity. They make our jobs harder, for all the resources wasted on them. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our own grit.

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03 August 2009

Upcoming Conference on Electromagnetic Pulse

A man-made Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is caused by a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere. This threat is a realistic possibility in this day and age. In fact, two Congressional Commissions have recently warned that America could suffer catastrophic consequences from a nuclear EMP attack by terrorists or rogue states. Their reports also point out that the U.S. can be protected if we act quickly. A House Homeland Security subcommittee is currently meeting and considering legislation, but very little has been done so far. According to the Abstract of the original Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, U.S. Congress, 2004: “Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication.” Read the full report _EMPACTAmerica
EMP attack by rogue states or by independent actors supported by rogue states, is increasingly likely. Whether a successful paralysis of the US electrical grid would require the extra-atmospheric detonation of a single nuke or multiple nukes, is irrelevant. More than enough nuclear material can be made available by enemies of the US to cause untold hardship and tens of trillions of dollars in infrastructure damage.

While the US military may be sufficiently hardened against such an attack to continue functioning, the US at large is not. The loss of US economic productivity caused by a large scale EMP attack would force the US military to withdraw from foreign activities on land, sea, and in the air in order to assist in the recovery and defense -- if necessary -- of the far-flung regions of the US proper.

EMP, dirty bombs, biological attacks, and soon nanotechnology attacks are becoming easier and more realistic by the year. While resources and attention are diverted to phantom climate fears, genuine threats are going unmet.

It is clear that the Obama / Pelosi reich is uninterested in anything but the consolidation of power, and elimination of all potential centres of opposition from government and the private sector. It is up to individuals, private groups, and state / county governments to prepare for real threats, essentially without help from the federal government.

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01 August 2009

Partial List of Online University Lecture Sites

Al Fin blog will soon be returning to its original purpose: providing access to the tools and information needed to survive to the next level. The central tool is one's self -- one's body and mind. Self development and self education are crucial. Never has higher level education been more economical or available than now. Below is a partial list of websites devoted to online lectures. You can find more such sites on the Al Fin sidebar dealing with specific subject areas, as well as many links to tutorials, free textbooks and journals, and specific online courses.

Lecture Fox: This site links to thousands of lectures in video, audio, and text formats, from top universities around the world.

Academic Earth: Previously covered here, this website appears to be growing into what may be come the go-to site for video lectures online.

Free Science and Video Lectures Online: This is a blog that covers a different subject area of online lecture videos in each post. The archives are extensive.

World Lecture Hall: This site contains a large searchable list of online lecture topics in a wide range of subjects.

Cosmolearning: Wide range of course topics particularly in science and computer science.

LearnersTV Nice selection of lectures, animations and notes on the sciences, engineering, computer science, medicine, and management. (added 7 Aug 09)

There are many more such sites available, and I will be mentioning more as I become more familiar with them. Also check out the Online education category below.


Video Lectures Net

Online Neuroscience Lectures

Theoretical Physics Talks and Conferences

101 Lectures on Open Source educational technologies

NPTEL: Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science course lectures from IIT

Khan Academy lectures on math, science, banking, and finance (added 6 Aug 09)

FreeVideoLectures.com (added 7 Aug 09)

http://www.lecturesarchive.com/5726.html (added 30 Oct 09)

Open Courseware Finder -- Expansive Search Engine (added 30 Oct 09)

Take Any Class for Free (added 30 Oct 09)

Update: You Tube Edu: This You Tube channel contains entire video courses from about 100 different prominent (mainly) US universities. You Tube Edu has been downgraded by Al Fin to a non-essential resource. The idea was sound, but it has been mishandled and badly botched. You can still find some useful videos at the site, but it deserves to be last on the list rather than first.

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