30 September 2011

Thinking More Deeply: Building Innovation Engines

Innovative Thinking

In research and development, the most revolutionary discoveries are often hidden beneath the flash and whiz-bang of fancy products, processes, and therapies. But here are two examples of discoveries of a more subtle and important type:
A TEAM of North-East academics and industry experts have "cracked the DNA code of plastic" which could mean massive cost and energy savings for business. Researchers at Durham University and the University of Leeds have collaborated with the Tees Valley chemical process sector to solve a long-standing problem that is set to revolutionise the way new plastics are developed.

Before the discovery, industry would develop a plastic and then find a use for it, or try hundreds of different recipes until they stumbled across the right mix. _Source

Alert readers will see the similarity between this new innovation engine for creating plastics-on-demand, and approaches to "rational design" of drugs and proteins. This type of breakthrough often sets the stage for large numbers of rapid-fire innovations to follow.

University of Utah chemists developed a method to design and test new catalysts, which are substances that speed chemical reactions and are crucial for producing energy, chemicals and industrial products. By using the new method, the chemists also made a discovery that will make it easier to design future catalysts. The discovery: the sizes and electronic properties of catalysts interact to affect how well a catalyst performs, and are not independent factors as was thought previously. Chemistry Professor Matt Sigman and doctoral student Kaid Harper, report their findings in the Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, issue of the journal Science.

“It opens our eyes to how to design new catalysts that we wouldn’t necessarily think about designing, for a broad range of reactions,” Sigman says. “We’re pretty excited.” _Physorg

This is another example of a discovery that could potentially set off a chain reaction of new discoveries and revolutionary products.

Some people intuitively understand the deeper nature of such discoveries, and the infinitely larger potential of such developments to revolutionise entire fields and societies. Others, failed by modern dumbed-down educational systems, may need to think about the idea for a while.

A great deal of attention is given to the concept of "higher order effects (PDF)," but too little attention is given to "higher order causes."

The modern mass production methods of education do not generally help students to learn how to think. Ideologically driven educators assume that if the student is indoctrinated in the proper ideology, she will then naturally think in the "correct" manner. And so indoctrination replaces education, and graduates and future leaders become lifelong incompetents, because they never learned to think.

This is not just about logic and resolving contradictions. It is also about generative thinking, lateral thinking, problem solving, and growing beyond ideology. A society whose graduates can think rationally and generatively is less likely to fall into a quagmire of malaise such as currently entraps much of the advanced world.

Generative thinkers do not merely solve problems as they arise. They also solve problems that lead to other problems -- before they arise. They do this by thinking more deeply, and further out of the ideological box.

Let's be clear: Although ideology can make a person's life easier and his choices more automatic, an honest person who is bound tightly by ideology cannot truly think -- the cognitive dissonance becomes too great. Thus the heated and perpetually unresolved arguments one sees in religion, politics, and on environmental issues.

It is always a pleasure to confront an ideological opponent, and to mutually penetrate beneath the level of ideology to a generative level and mode of thinking. The productive output of such sessions can be much greater than any number of brainstorming sessions occurring within a circle of "self-anointed truth-bearers."

Generations of children are being short-changed and mind-stunted by inappropriate educational methods. This stunting and starving of brains occurs from kindergarten through university, and beyond. Those who have been paying attention understand that this is not happening by accident, just as the "energy starvation agenda" of modern governments is not happening by accident.

If a society is marinated in ideological thinking -- as virtually all human societies have been -- change can be very slow in coming. Since the converging problems of debt and demographic decline in the west are occurring at a rate which will probably not allow the needed changes to occur at high enough levels, it is up to persons at more local levels to instigate necessary changes to the best of their ability.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that a magical singularity will miraculously solve the human world's problems. Singularities help those who help themselves. Humans will have to make this transition from ideological thinking to generative thinking.

What proportion of humans will need to move beyond conventional thinking? Al Fin futurologists estimate that at least 10% and perhaps as many as 20% of humans within a society will have to forsake ideology and learn to think for themselves. The odds of finding such an innovation-rich environment by accident are very poor.

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29 September 2011

Useful Primers on Fiat Money and Banking

Our lives are controlled to a large extent by the rules of the fiat money world that we are immersed within. It is better that we understand these rules so that we can anticipate and plan for at least some of the turbulence that may come our way.

h/t Mish's Global Economic Analysis

Banking and Money from KhanAcademy.org

Ron Paul's view of the US' monetary conundrum.

Gold as Money FAQs from the Mises Institute

Wikipedia: History of Money

Description of "History of Money" by Glyn Davies. This is one of the most highly regarded histories of money available.

Video (and transcript): Chris Martenson Crash Course Chap. 7 -- Money Creation
Note: Later in his crash course, Martenson falls unwittingly into the twin traps of "peak oil" and "climate hysteria," but his chapters on money present some key concepts in useful ways.

Al Fin economists and child care specialists feel that it is a crime that all children are not educated in money, exchange, and markets from the earliest age. Trading and entrepreneurialism should be second nature to all children raised in a free society. Each citizen should have a sound intuitive sense of money, and keep abreast of the actions of elected representatives which may influence the value of money and the freedom of trade and markets.

Most citizens appear to be almost entirely ignorant on these points. A bitter price will be paid for this ignorance.

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Some Older Women Just Have to Have a Baby

Say hello to Fiona Palin, 49 years old in this photo. You see her with her healthy daughter Kiki, age 5 months. Fiona is just one of many older women who are unwilling to be without a baby, despite getting on in years. Among the financially comfortable and well off, this is becoming something of a trend.
In 2008, Brad Van Voorhis, head of the fertility clinic at the University of Iowa, decided he wanted to measure how well children conceived through in vitro fertilization do on intelligence tests, hoping to dispel lingering concerns about their cognitive abilities. So he and his team compared the standardized-test scores of 463 IVF kids ages 8 to 17 against the scores of other kids in their classes. They found that the IVF kids scored better overall and in every category of test—reading, math, and language skills. And they found that the older the mother, the better the kid performed.

...Some evidence even suggests that having babies late extends a person’s life. Boston University’s Thomas Perls has been studying centenarians since 1995. He found that women who gave birth to children after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who did not. His study has nothing to do with reproductive technology or adoption: It shows a connection between an unusually healthy reproductive system and longevity. But longevity is complex, and Perls hypothesizes that there’s something about living with kids—all that running around, all that responsibility, all that social connectivity in the shape of picnics and playdates—that maintains health. People who’ve made a big investment to have little kids take care of themselves, and people who take care of themselves live longer.

...The relative wealth of older parents blunts their supposed shortcomings in other ways. Research supports intuition: Rich people live longer than others. Demographers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found that the gap in life expectancy between richest and poorest Americans has widened since 1980 to four and half years from three. Rich people are likelier to have good health insurance, and insured people live longer because they can avail themselves of checkups and screening tests. Rich people are likelier not to be smokers, they’re likelier to be thin, and they’re likelier to have good cardiovascular health.

...It is nearly impossible to have a baby at 50 by accident. “Oops” does not happen; that momentary abandonment of good sense or caution will almost never result in a pregnancy. No matter how a child is procured, whether through technology or adoption, her 50-year-old parents have likely gone through some kind of hell—paperwork, blood tests, questionnaires, waiting, visa applications, mood swings, marital discord, and recalibration of expectations—to have her. These are the most wanted of children. And their parents, some would argue, can give them something that the youngest and prettiest don’t have: the wisdom of age and an abiding sense that life is a precious gift not to be wasted.

Fiona Palin started trying to conceive ten years ago, when she was 38. She underwent six failed IVF cycles and three miscarriages—including, the final time, a miscarriage of triplets. Depressed for years, she decided to give up hope, go back to school, and become a tourism consultant. She investigated adoption. She was keeping herself busy.

Last August, when she and her husband, Nick, who is 63, decided to thaw and use their last remaining embryo, abiding in a freezer since 2002, they were done “with everything but the crying,” she says. “I thought, This won’t work. Don’t put any hopes on it.” It did, though. Fiona learned she was pregnant in the bathroom of a Ralphs supermarket in Los Angeles, where, in anticipation of a long, boozy evening with relatives, she took a do-it-yourself urine test, just to be safe. “I screamed. I was crying hysterically in the toilet. If anyone would have heard, I’m sure they would have called security. I got myself together and went outside, and Nick was there. He said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ and I told him, and then he started crying. So we’re crying in this parking lot of this supermarket.” According to her obstetrician, Fiona’s pregnancy was “flawless.” _NYMag
In affluent countries, healthy 50 year olds often have another 30 years of relatively vigorous life left in them. If they want to -- and are able to -- nurture and raise another child or generation of children, who is to say they cannot?

Recent research from Karolinska Institute in Sweden demonstrates that older men are more than capable of siring healthy and intelligent children -- in younger women or older.

If older women plan ahead and freeze their young eggs ahead of time, they can birth healthy and smart babies using their even older husbands' sperm. If they have no frozen eggs of their own, they can buy eggs from healthy young females willing to part with a few. Either way, IVF can help. Some older couples even have frozen embryos patiently waiting for the couple to commit to bringing it into the world as an instantiated being. And then, there are always surrogate mothers, willing to bear another couple's child for a fee.

The objections to having children at an older age can generally be met and dealt with by persons who are smart enough, healthy enough, and affluent enough. But have they truly thought about how they will deal with the teenage brain, when the time comes? I suspect that the pivotal factor in overcoming that challenge, will be how well the parents can honestly and emotionally engage the child from the earliest age up to the teenage years. And how well the parent can limit the child's exposure to an extremely dysfunctional popular culture, educational culture, and the culture of dysfunctional peers of childhood.

For many people, having to raise their own grandchildren -- when their own no-good kids fail to raise them -- will provide them with as much child-raising satisfaction in their middle and old age as they can stand. But don't be surprised if this trend toward maternity among older, childless women of affluence, begins to pick up momentum.

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28 September 2011

Can the Best Part of Higher Education in the US Be Salvaged?

US higher education is in danger of collapse when the education bubble bursts. Rapid inflation of tuition charges combined with administrative bloat, an oppressive air of political correctness, and the too-frequent substitution of ideological indoctrination in place of genuine education -- these things and more spell the doom of US higher education. Unless things can quickly and decisively change.
Many universities, and not a few colleges, have come to resemble Fortune 500 companies with their layers of highly paid executives presiding over complex empires that contain semi-professional athletic programs, medical and business schools, and expensive research programs along with the traditional academic departments charged with providing instruction to undergraduate students. Like other industries, higher education has its own trade magazines and newspapers, influential lobbying groups in Washington, and paid advertising agents reminding the public of how important their enterprise is to the national welfare. In contrast to corporate businesses, whose members generally agree on their overall purpose, colleges and universities have great difficulty defining what their enterprise is for. What is a college education? On just about any campus, at any given time, one can find faculty members in intense debate about what a college education entails and what the mission of their institution should be. Few businesses would dare to offer a highly expensive product that they are incapable of defining for the inquiring consumer. Yet this is what colleges and universities have done at least since the 1960s, and they have done so with surprising success. _NewCriterion
James Piereson has published an incisive review of US higher education -- and of recently published scholarly books which examine US higher education. He summarises some key reforms which should bring about critical improvements in relatively short order:
(1) Shelve the utopian idea that every young person should attend college and also the notion that the nation’s prosperity depends upon universal college attendance. Many youngsters are not prepared or motivated for college. Let them prepare for a vocation. The attempt to push them through college is weakening the enterprise for everyone else.

(2) Terminate most Ph.D. programs in the humanities and social sciences. There is little point in training able people in research programs when they have no prospect of gaining employment afterwards. The research enterprise has also corrupted all of these fields, particularly in the humanities.

(3) Develop programs in these fields that will allow students to earn graduate degrees based upon teaching rather than research. Such programs will be intellectually broad rather than specialized and will equip graduates to teach in several fields in the humanities. This will strengthen teaching in the liberal arts and perhaps even revive the field from its current condition.

(4) Reverse the expansion of administrative layers, especially those offices and programs created to satisfy campus pressure groups. If campus groups want their own administrative offices, they should pay for them themselves, rather than asking other students (and their parents) to do so. Colleges and universities should make it a practice to hire at least three new faculty members for every new administrator hired.

(5) Bring back general education requirements and core curricula to ensure that every student is exposed to the important ideas in the sciences and humanities that have shaped our civilization. There are many ways of doing this. Columbia University has always done it through a “great books” approach; other institutions do it through a series of survey courses in the sciences and liberal arts. How it is done matters less than that it is done. _NewCriterion
Al Fin education specialists assert that these reforms should be seen as a bare beginning. US higher education is in need of a thorough overhaul, which is only likely to happen in the lee of some very unfortunate events for society as a whole. Much of the dead weight in the staff and faculty of US colleges will be ejected as a result of upcoming economic difficulties occurring in both the private and public sectors of the US economy.

Dead weight government programs which affect education, such as affirmative action, Title IX, etc. will cling to existence for as long as possible -- to the detriment of affected institutions and society at large. Eventually, they too will have to fall by the wayside.

First published at Al Fin, the Next Level

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27 September 2011

The Coming Global Age of the Old and Decrepit

The U.N. now projects that over the next 40 years, more than half (58 percent) of the world's population growth will come from increases in the number of people over 60, while only 6 percent will come from people under 30. Indeed, the U.N. projects that by 2025, the population of children under 5, already in steep decline in most developed countries, will be falling globally -- and that's even after assuming a substantial rebound in birth rates in the developing world. A gray tsunami will be sweeping the planet. _FP
This avalanche of aging and debility will sweep across portions of the Earth like a plague, leaving once-thriving societies and civilisations at the mercy of more barbarous, but more vital, societies. Who will win and who will lose in this race to the edges of death?
In many countries, such as Germany, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, the one-child family is now becoming the norm. This trend creates a society in which not only do most people have no siblings, but also no aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. Many will lack children of their own as well. Today about one in five people in advanced Western countries, including the United States, remains childless. Huge portions of the world's population will thus have no biological relatives except their parents.

And even where children continue to be born, they are being raised under radically different circumstances, as country after country has seen divorce and out-of-wedlock births surge and the percentage of children living with both of their married parents drop sharply. So not only is the quantity of children in the world poised to shrink rapidly, but on current trends, a near majority of them will be raised in ways that are today strongly associated with negative life outcomes. _FP
In fact, virtually all of Europe, Russia, Canada, and much of East Asia are being swept up by the tsunami of global aging. We are living in the eye of the storm, when the repercussions of this demographic storm are not as turbulent as they will be quite soon.

When the "experts" discuss issues such as economic crises, climate change, resource scarcity, and trends in culture, they always leave out some critical pieces of the puzzle. Without these pieces, it is impossible for ordinary people to get a grasp on what is happening. Demographic changes -- due to differential birthrates and migrations -- are key to predicting future trends. Differences between populations in cognitive aptitude, executive function, cultural norms, aesthetics, ethics, impulse control, and many other genetically influenced civilisational fulcrums, must be acknowledged and understood, before future trends can be unraveled and delineated.

Many of the troubling trends in modern societies such as an increase in cheating and dishonesty at all levels of society, media, government -- even in science -- are in large part due to the demographic transitions that are taking place. If you don't understand what is happening on the level of population changes and displacements, you will be at a loss as the massive shocks and aftershocks precede and follow the coming tsunami.


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As the Obama Crisis Deepens, Consider Zombie-Proofing Your Home

All Images from All-that-is-interesting

Above you can see the zombie-proof house with all shutters fully closed. In this setting, the only access into the house is via a drawbridge, which must be lowered for entry.
Now you can see the shutters as they begin opening. Notice the large front heavy steel shutter which is electrically controlled.
Concrete shutters are now fully opened, revealing the side windows and front entrance and windows.
Here you can see the lowering of the drawbridge -- the only access to the house when all shutters are closed in full zombie-proof mode.
This is the house as it would normally be seen, with no zombies in the vicinity. Regular patrols by ground and from the air are mandatory, to assure the absence of zombies. A constant seismic surveillance is likewise necessary, to guard against the dreaded tunneling zombies.
After the sun goes down, the house would normally be fully closed in, due to the increased threat of nocturnal zombie attack. Immediately after this photograph was taken, a zombie spotting was reported two houses down, requiring an immediate shuttering-in. Eternal vigilance becomes second nature inside the zombie zone.

Taken from a posting at Al Fin, the Next Level


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26 September 2011

Seeking the True Shape of Peak Oil

The most simplistic graphic description of peak oil is shown above. The curve moves smoothly upward to the peak, then drops quickly to negligible levels. This is how unsophisticated peak oil doomers typically see the "peak oil" phenomenon.
A more sophisticated observor of oil and liquid fuels production is likely to be aware of the economic "recruitment" of new oil supplies and substitute fuels, as the cheaper, low-hanging fruit is plucked and prices trend upward. Notice the unsophisticated peak oil curve in dotted orange, labeled "Peak oil--Campbell."
Sine / Cosine Graph Simulating Out of Phase Oil Price and GDP Curves

But that is not to say that all peak oilers and peak oil consultants are as unsophisticated as Hubbert, Campbell, or Simmons. A new breed of more economically informed peak oil consultant is beginning to describe "peak oil" as more of a cyclical phenomenon, driven by the interaction between oil prices and economic growth.
Peak Oil is, in fact, a complex but largely an economically driven phenomenon that is caused because the point is reached when: The cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth at a given point in time. While hard to definitively prove, there is considerable circumstantial evidence that there is an oil price economies cannot afford without severe negative impacts.

The corollary is that if oil prices fall back to and sustain levels that do not inhibit growth, then economic growth will resume, with both recoveries and downturns lagging oil price changes by 1-6 months. _ChrisSkrebowski

You can easily see in the above definition of "peak oil," the driving forces of a co-cyclical pattern involving oil prices and economic growth, simulated by the out of phase sine and cosine curves.
But for peak oil to mean anything at all, it must incorporate an element of doom, catastrophe, and collapse. The above graphic simulates a cyclic economic pattern with attenuation, damping to very low levels of economic activity. This graphic might best depict the new, more sophisticated economic / geologic synthesis of peak oil doom consultants, as described by Skrebowski, when economies do not have enough time enough to fully recover from the previous crash before the next oil price hike hits the system. Each successive cycle leads to a worsening economic picture, in this scenario -- since the economy is thrown too far off balance to develop substitute fuels or power sources in time to prevent collapse.

Now, contrast the "peak oil plateau" graphic that is the second image from the top, with the damped sine wave depiction of peak oil collapse in the lowest graphic. In the case of the "complex plateau," there would seem to be time for advanced societies to move to safe, clean, advanced nuclear sources for power and industrial heat. But in the case of the damped sine pattern, it is not clear that societies could recover from the downward spiral.

A thinking person might perceive that different nations possess different resources -- both natural resources and human resources. Logically, the response curves to "peak oil" for different nations and societies would not be identical to each other. Rather, the response to "peak oil" -- no matter how it is defined -- is likely to vary widely between different economies, depending upon the available resources and the competence of national leadership. In other words, collapse is more likely to be regional in all but the worst price-shock cycle scenarios.

A careful reading of the Skrebowski piece linked above, will reveal that government policies will have a great deal to do with how a society weathers high energy costs. If governments pursue policies of energy starvation -- such as the Obama government and certain European governments are doing -- economic hardship within the society will multiply.


Two sides to peak oil
An interesting historical look at the evolution of viewpoints toward oil resources and peak oil.

How an excessively gloomy view of peak oil might distort markets and cause unnecessary disruption and hardship

Cross published at Al Fin Energy

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25 September 2011

China's Economic Problems Deepen; World Is Not Immune

“We’re reaching a tipping point where land sales are dropping much faster than before, developers are losing more access to bank financing, and housing prices are showing weakness,” Nomura’s Zhang said in an interview in Beijing yesterday.

...The price of land in Beijing slumped 76 percent in August from a month earlier, while in Guangzhou it plummeted 53 percent, according to Soufun. Land auction failures surged 242 percent in the first seven months of this year because of government curbs on the property market, the Beijing Times reported Aug. 3.

...Funding problems are just “the tip of the iceberg” and “sharp declines in property sales and prices are likely in the next two to three months,” said Shen Jianguang, an economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong.

...“The risk of China replaying the hard landing of 2008 is increasing as the property sector cools and exports weaken,” Shen said. “ I fear that once the real economy deteriorates and officials do loosen policies, it will already be too late.” _Bloomberg

When global markets contracted in the 2008 crash, China lost a huge portion of its export income. Without its economic mainstay, China was forced to create an artificial real estate boom inside its own borders, to boost GDP and support employment. China's ongoing construction and real estate bubble has consumed a huge proportion of global commodities production -- helping to support the economies of commodities producing nations.

When China's internal bubble collapses, the repercussions will spread around the globe, adding to the ongoing economic turmoil.
In Europe, the situation may be more dire as the inability of policymakers to solve Greece's debt crisis over the last two years has allowed its problems to ripple into Italy, Spain and other struggling economies.

The stock market's slump this week resumes the sell-off that slammed share prices in early August. The Dow dived 2,000 points, or nearly 16%, from July 21 to Aug. 10. _LATimes
China's government is brittle, and difficult to change. When state policies fail and threaten to create massive disruption, China's brittle ruling apparatus may find itself at a loss.
In democracies, economic shocks typically result in electoral defeat for the incumbent government, which at least provides the public with someone to blame, and a test of the hypothesis that the crisis was the result of mismanagement.

In a closed oligarchy like that of China, there is no such mechanism. The system could break down from within, as factional disagreements within the central committee spill out into the broader party and the public at large. Alternatively, large-scale public protests, combined with disagreements over the extent to which repression is desirable and feasible, could bring about a rapid breakdown. _NationalInterest
The empire is still riding on its vast cash reserves, built up during the golden days of exporting. The clout from these reserves has allowed China to push Russia around in many ways, and to work its way into positions of strength and influence on several continents. But the economic equation is shifting and changing in several ways, both subtle and unsubtle. If China cannot shift and flow with the changing currents, terrible troubles may soon confront the celestial kingdom.
China has had a gigantic bubble. Now, will it collapse or will it just slow down, that is a different issue but some sectors of the economy will collapse," [Faber] said. _IndiaTimes

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23 September 2011

Atlantropa: Connecting Africa to the Modern World

Atlantropa Video Part I of VI (German)
In order to bring more of the benefits of modern civilisation to Islam and Africa, Europe will need to provide greater access to the primitive lands and dark continent. A dam across the Gibraltar Straits and a bridge from Italy to Tunisia, would be good starting points. A tunnel from Spain to Morocco would provide further high speed rail access.
...Sicily [would be] connected to both Tunisia and the Italian mainland (allowing, among other things for a regular train service between Berlin and Cape Town). In the western half, the water would be lowered by 100 meters, in the eastern half by as much as 200 meters, combining to create 576,000 km2 new dry land, a fifth of the Mediterranean’s surface, or more than the surface of Belgium and France together. _BigThink

Strategic damming of the Congo and tributaries would provide two large inland seas, allowing for extensive development of the African interior. Continuous train service would link Capetown, South Africa, with all European destinations.
More information on Atlantropa
Wikipedia Atlantropa
Big Think Atlantropa
Greening the Sahara

The Atlantropa project was the grand scheme of Herman Sorgel, a German architect who lived through the Nazi era. He wanted to provide an alternative to Hitler's war-for-lebensraum, by creating new land and new frontiers without the need for another war in Europe. But his plans and schemes were all for naught, as Hitler ignored Sorgel's ideas, and laid waste to Europa. Instead of hope and new frontiers, Hitler brought despair and devastation.

As for how China might view a modern resurrection of the Atlantropa idea, use your imaginations. Somehow I doubt the rulers of African nations would mind too very much, as long as the payoff was considered sufficient.

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Will European Populations Be Reduced to Eating Insects?


Food riots have occurred in many parts of the third world recently, but Europeans have always felt immune from food concerns -- ever since the introduction of the potato from the Americas, in the 1500s. But recent financial concerns of government debt and demographic decline across the continent, are raising concern in Brussels about future food supplies in Europe.

It is easy to grow tasty insect larvae almost anywhere, on scraps and waste. But these plump, juicy larvae are not only suitable for fish bait. According to the EU food experts, an entire continent of humans can, and perhaps should, be taught to live on insects.
Experts in Brussels believe insects and other creepy crawlies could be a vital source of nutrition which will not only solve food shortages but also help save the environment.

They have launched a three million euro (£2.65 million) project to promote the eating of insects while also asking national watchdogs like the UK's Food Standards Agency to investigate the issue.

...According to one study, small grasshoppers offer 20 per cent protein and just six per cent fat, to lean ground beef's 24 per cent protein and 18 per cent fat.

Crickets are also said to be high in calcium, termites rich in iron, and a helping of giant silkworm moth larvae apparently provides all the daily copper and riboflavin requirements. There are even claims that bees boost the libido.

Insects emit less greenhouse gases than cattle and require less feed, supposedly making them environmentally-friendly. And supporters claim they could help feed [Europe], because they are so abundant they provide at least 200kg of biomass for every human.

The European Commission is offering the money to the research institute with the best proposal for investigating "Insects as novel sources of proteins". _Telegraph

Europe's population is imploding, due to low birthrates. Europe's elites and overseers are looking for ways to cut costs, to meet the increasingly burdensome social obligations of Euro nanny-states, in the face of a shrinking demographic and disappearing taxpayers. One should probably not feel surprised to see grub and larvae soup and salad appearing on the menus of future bistros.

It is not yet clear how the rapidly growing Muslim population of Europe will accept new EU insect food guidelines. But everybody's gotta eat, right?
H/T ImpactLab

Adapted from an earlier article at Al Fin, the Next Level

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21 September 2011

Talpiot: Seizing the Day

The applicant pool consists of nearly ten thousand top scorers of a test taken by all graduating high school seniors. 150-200 potential applicants are then subjected to a two-day series of tests.[1] These include further IQ exams as well as group-tasks designed to test one's social dynamics, all conducted under the supervision of trained psychologists and military personnel. For example, teams of applicants are given a specific task then the instructions are changed while the test is in progress, such as shortening the alloted time or changing the assigned tasks.[1] Final applicants appear before a panel of professors, military leaders, and other examiners where they are asked questions such as to explain the theory of relativity or mechanisms of solar heating.[1] Final acceptance into the program entails a high security clearance rating, given by the Air Force. _Talpiot (wikipedia)
Talpiot is a program for bringing the best of the best of Israeli youth together into an intensive mental, physical, and military training regimen. 5,000 youth apply every year, and 50 are accepted. Out of those 50, only 40 will complete the training, and be commissioned as lieutenants in the IDF. They spend 9 years total, including education, training, and military commitment.
Those who survive go on to careers as officers in some of the military's most prestigious operations, mostly in research and development projects, Schlachet said. From there, the 500-odd Talpiot grads have tended to find their way to the upper echelons of business and academia, he said.

"You learn self-confidence, not to be afraid of anything. No subject is too complex to go after, and no answer should be taken for granted," said Talpiot grad Gilad Almogy, 38, Applied Materials' top executive in Israel.

The Nasdaq-traded biotech company Compugen was formed by three of Almogy's Talpiot comrades. A fourth, Mor Amitai, now runs the company.

Amitai says some of the most complicated work he ever did was during his time in Talpiot. "The experience of sometimes succeeding, almost always as part of a team, involving something that really seemed impossible, I think this is something we took with us," he said. _USAToday_via_SteveHsu
Talpiot is run by the Israeli Defense Force with the aim of creating an elite officer corps which is capable of responding to any threat by the innovative use of the most advanced technologies -- or any tool within reach. If these elite soldiers later become leaders in business, technology, finance, and other vital areas of society, it should come as no surprise to anyone who is paying attention.

During the training, the youngsters are taught to flirt with insubordination (PDF). Rather than listen to their superiors, they are taught to find answers on their own. The aim is to create self-confident, self-sufficient self starters capable of innovative thinking on the fly, in the middle of a crisis that doesn't yield to SOPs and conventional operations.

Israel is a tiny country thriving in a hostile environment. The country is famous for scientific and technological innovation and achievement far beyond what its small population would lead one to expect. Part of the reason for this overachievement is the survival imperative. Part of the reason is the significant proportion of famously high IQ European Jews who provide much of the leadership for all segments of Israeli society. When you combine high IQ with the will to survive, you come up with programs such as Talpiot.

Israel can not afford to waste its most talented youth -- as western nations such as the US seem intent on doing. At least, Israel's military cannot afford to lose these tough and talented innovators. Not if the country is to survive.

While western nations are busy drowning in debt, demographic decline, political correctness, green dieoff.org-motivated energy starvation, cultural decay, and other methods of slow suicide, at least a few segments of some national governments still recognise the need to promote the best of human potential and ability.

Militaries are often the last bastion of competence in countries whose cultures are in decay. At least, militaries that have to work and maintain an acceptable level of competence. But militaries tend to settle into conventional thinking and lowest common denominator policies, like all bureaucracies and institutions. That is why it is important to feed a constant flow of brutally tested innovative thinking into the mix, and give it freedom to work.

The difference between the Talpiot approach and conventional academia could not be more stark. Academia is about status, tenure, and publishing as much crap as possible. Talpiot is about sound, rapid innovation to get good results. The Talpiot must start with the best of the best, and winnow the field from there. No affirmative action. No social promotion. No special preferences for "disadvantaged groups." Just unrelenting tests for competence, ability, and ingenious thinking.

In other words, these cadets are not only smart, but they also have to be good. And they especially must have grit -- character.

Obviously this system will not work for the average youth. Even most above-average students would fall by the wayside in a rigorous program such as Talpiot. But the concepts involved in the program are key to revitalising western education. No nonsense. No grade inflation. No social promotion. No affirmative action. Focus on results, competence, and character.

Getting from here to there, however, will require a bit of demolition and reconstruction. Such an overhaul is not possible on a national level, but could be done locally, under careful leadership.

More on Talpiot via Steve Hsu

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20 September 2011

US and Europe Downgraded: Who is Surprised?

The International Monetary Fund has downgraded its economic outlook for the US and Europe. No surprise. The only rational question is: "Has the IMF downgraded these profligate nanny state losers enough?"
"The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase," said Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist. "The recovery has weakened considerably. Strong policies are needed to improve the outlook and reduce the risks."

The IMF has also lowered its outlook for the 17 countries that use the euro. It predicts 1.6 percent growth this year and 1.1 percent next year, down from its June projections of 2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

The gloomier forecast for Europe is based on worries that euro nations won't be able to contain their debt crisis and keep it from destabilizing the region.

"Markets have clearly become more skeptical about the ability of many countries to stabilize their public debt," Blanchard said. "Fear of the unknown is high." _APFinance_Yahoo

A closer look at Europe by a Wall Street Journal piece, reinforces the gloomy outlook for Europe's economic future:
What comes next is the explosion of the European project. Given what European leaders have made of that project over the past 30-odd years, it's not an altogether bad thing. But it will come at a massive cost. The riots of Athens will become those of Milan, Madrid and Marseilles. Parties of the fringe will gain greater sway. Border checkpoints will return. Currencies will be resurrected, then devalued. Countries will choose decay over reform. It's a long, likely parade of horribles. _WSJ
Making Europe's future appear even more dismal, is the continent's ongoing demographic collapse, and its apparent determination to commit energy suicide. Debilitating debt, demographic decline, and suicide by energy starvation....a sad outlook indeed.

Mish elaborates on the likely dissolution of the Eurozone

Greece is facing a 100% probability of default. Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Italy are lined up in the cross-hairs.

The US is not the only nation with a corrupt, Chicago-mob style administration. But if the US stumbles under an insane load of debt and government dysfunction, the rest of the world will certainly suffer for it.

Perhaps the world deserves that blowback, given how badly the nations of the world apparently wanted Obama to be elected. But that is no reason for American voters to prolong and intensify their own agony beyond what is necessary to learn important lessons.


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19 September 2011

When BRICs Crumble, Will Commodity Prices Collapse?

Common wisdom assumes that commodity prices, including oil prices, will continue to rise on exponential demand from emerging nations, such as China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, etc. But under the sheen of those rosy projections, exists a growing excremental stench of corruption and decay. If the magical trajectory of the BRICs should falter, how far would commodities prices fall? And what would be the repercussions for already stressed world financial markets, desperate for safe havens and hedged to the hilt?
China's property bubble is set to implode, and when it does, the Chinese economy will cool far more than anyone thinks, taking commodities along for the ride. Commodity producers like Australia and Canada are at extreme risk as well. _Mish
Not just Australia and Canada are at extreme risk. Two BRICs -- notably Russia and Brasil -- are gambling on continued high commodity prices into the indefinite future. Corruption in all of the BRICs is hampering genuine market-based growth, but economic dependence on raw commodities prices is particularly bad in Russia.

When commodity prices dive, Russia may well grow desperate.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the country's uncrowned czar, has linked his legitimacy to the economy's performance by offering the Russian people a grand bargain: submit to his increasingly autocratic rule and the state will compensate with economic goodies like higher incomes and hefty social-welfare spending. Now that the economy is faltering, Putin is under intensifying pressure from a discontented public to restore Russian democracy, potentially destabilizing Russian politics. He has already faced protests in Moscow against his rule amid the economic downturn. There's also a risk that leaders in Moscow will resort to nationalistic appeals to distract the public from problems at home, escalating tension with Russia's neighbors, the rest of Europe and the U.S. _Time

Russia's ongoing demographic collapse, and the threat of losing much of Eastern Siberia to Chinese influence, is not helping the mood in Moscow. But without the clout that comes from high energy prices, Russia becomes an angry dancing toy bear with nuclear weapons.

Venezuela, Iran, the Arab states of MENA, Mexico, and many countries in tribal Africa and Asia, are also pathologically dependent on high commodity prices, due to internal corruption having squeezed natural markets to death. How will their people deal with the many difficulties and hardships they will face when their governments cannot feed, clothe, house, or water them?

Even the US is vulnerable to a fall in commodities prices. The US is the world's third largest oil producer. The recent boom in US shale oil & gas production is one of the few bright lights in an otherwise dim Obama economy. And although the jobs, housing, manufacturing, and other sectors in the US economy continue to sag, Obama has not had enough time to entirely destroy the US private sector.

Few readers of this blog understand the precarious state of China's economic house of cards. That is because almost all of the economic information coming out of China is closely controlled, and coated with a shiny facade. But it is time for readers to begin asking themselves about the global repercussions of a more sustained commodities price slump than they have seen.

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17 September 2011

A Deadly Enemy Older than Man: The Buzz of Death

Mosquitoes transmit disease to over 700 million humans a year, with a resulting death toll in the millions (wikipedia). To this point, the insect repellant DEET is the most effective defensive weapon against these disease vectors, other than thick clothing and strong netting. But humans are slowly beginning to decode the language of mosquito smell rceptors.

Scientists at UC Riverside are discovering an array of common chemicals that can inhibit, blind, or lead astray the CO2 receptors of mosquitoes.

Vanderbilt University researchers have gone further, and developed an entirely new class of insect repellant which is thousands of times more effective than DEET.

But now that genetic engineers have become interested in the mosquito problem, we are beginning to see new strategies which are more clever than ever. The illustration above reveals two contrasting approaches to species eradication -- the sterile male technique vs the autocidal technique.
...if autocidal technology lives up to its promise, it could be about as environmentally friendly as pest control can get. It could largely or entirely replace pesticides, and it affects only the target species. Last but not least, it is hard to see what could go wrong. _NewScientist
The autocidal technique produces females which either die before maturation, or which are physically disabled and unable to mate.

Generally, genes that cause a reproductive disadvantage will tend to disappear from the population over time. But there are a number of factors which could alter that Darwinian equation.

If the autocidal mosquitoes were also given traits that conferred a reproductive advantage for themselves -- super powerful sexual attractant pheromones for example -- as part of an overall genetic package, the autocidal trait would spread more quickly.

Likewise, if automated stations were set up in the wild to periodically release new batches of autocidal males, the process could be reinforced over an extended period of time.

If the autocidal trait caused sterility in females, rather than death or disability, the process of species extermination would be accelerated.

And so on. It is easy to imagine dozens of ways to augment, accelerate, or perpetuate such a process of ongoing extermination.

Alert readers will have recognised the return to the New Scientist article on species extinction, applied here specifically to mosquitoes.

But as noted in the NS article, similar techniques could be applied to virtually any species that reproduces sexually. Also as noted in the NS article, the genetic engineers have just begun to think of different approaches to the mosquito problem. This ball has just begun to roll down the hill.


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15 September 2011

#1 Box Office Movie "Contagion": Realistic Prelude to Global Collapse?


The current movie box office champion, Contagion, is being praised for its realistic portrayal of a global outbreak of a killer virus. A wide range of experts were consulted in the attempt by movie producers to make the film as realistic as possible.
It's hard to name many Hollywood blockbusters that are as invested in the realities of science as Contagion....very few Hollywood productions realistically portray the process of science, both its successes and frustrations. That's what makes Contagion unique. Although it is by no means flawlessly accurate - it's not a NOVA documentary - Contagion has been well fact-checked compared to most science-y blockbusters.

The movie's exhilarating pace never sags, even in scenes that have the potential to bore people out of their minds: a meeting between an epidemic intelligence service officer (Winslet) and the Minnesota Department of Health, for example. But Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns practice what is in effect very successful science communication: they keep the viewer's attention as they explain statistics like the all-important R0 - the average number of people an infected person infects - and truths about the scientific process, such as the fact that before researchers can study a virus, they need to figure out how to grow it in cell cultures in the lab, without the virus destroying all the cells.

... _NewScientist

Given the assumptions about the fictitious virus, MEV-1:
  • It can be spread by direct or indirect contact, by airborne droplets
  • It kills quickly, within a few days of exposure
  • The virus remains contagious in the environment for several hours or days
  • It kills over 20% of those infected
etc, it is easy to see how such an infection could lead to a global economic collapse.

Such a virus would not lead to the extinction of humans -- unless it left survivors sterile -- but in the age of high volume global travel, such an easily spread virus would end up in most of the world's large cities within just a few days of hitting a busy airport such as O'Hare, Heathrow, or JFK. From there, it would spread radially to smaller cities and the countryside. Air, train, and bus travel would not likely be shut down until it was too late.

Hospitals and clinics would be particularly fertile foci for contagion. Most doctors, nurses, paramedical personnel, EMS, etc. would be infected.

Schools would likewise be hit early and hard. Teachers, children, bus drivers, would all carry the virus home with them. Any workplace where a lot of people work in close proximity, use the same machines, and share the same facilities, would provide the epidemic with a host of new victims.

Even if 80% of the infected eventually survived, a lot of society's most valuable members would have been lost. Regional and national economies would collapse and take time to restore. The transportation infrastructure and product supply lines would take many years to rebuild and replace. Power structures would quickly and radically shift. Central governmental control would be lost for years in many nations, and permanently in others.

I am describing what would be the best case scenario. In real life, an effective vaccine would not be developed or produced nearly so quickly as in the film. The dying would probably continue for months and years as the virus mutated and came back through the same populations a second, third, or fourth time.

So, what do you do, given this very real (although perhaps unlikely) scenario?


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14 September 2011

Wealth of Papers from Recent Artificial General Intelligence Conference Held on Google Mountain View Campus

Brian Wang presents a nice overview of the recent 4th Conference on AGI, held in the heart of Silicon Valley. This year's AGI conference seems to represent an important evolution in much of the thinking in the AGI field, with a growing depth and sophistication of approach to the problems involved.

To get a better idea of what I am talking about, here are links to most of the papers presented at the conference.

And here are papers from a special workshop on "Self Programming in AGI Systems"

Videos from 3rd Conference on AGI

Artificial general intelligence of human level or higher, would be a radically disruptive technology to modern societies. Along with breakthroughs in scalable robotics, universal nano-assemblers, and a mastery of biological gene expression, a breakthrough in AGI would quickly overhaul most of the bases of modern economics and most other important foundations of everyday life in high tech societies.

Al Fin cognitive scientists have presented many criticisms to mainstream AI approaches -- particularly to the idea that human intelligence can be represented algorithmically. One of the papers presented at this year's AGI conference elaborates on this idea: "Real World Limits to Algorithmic Intelligence"

The biological basis of mathematical competencies is an interesting look by Aaron Sloman at the development of spatial and mathematical concepts in humans. (via Brian Wang) Sloman touches on the idea of the non-verbal or pre-verbal metaphor, an important key to understanding human learning and thought.

Overall, Al Fin cognitive scientists are pleased at the direction the AGI movement is taking, on the basis of the AGI-4 papers they have read, and on the topics covered generally.

There is no doubt a great deal of hidden treasure in the many papers provided at the conference links above. For those who find this sort of thing interesting, enjoy.


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13 September 2011

How the Green Movement Can Trigger the Great Human Dieoff

Powerful persons in the global green movement would like to see the human population of Earth reduced by at least 90%. For several decades, many of them believed that resource depletion, energy scarcity, mass starvation, or voluntary sterilisation might achieve their grand goal. But it is slowly dawning on them that if they are to slash the human population of the planet to a size that they consider manageable, they will have to be a bit more proactive.

Just in time for the great green engineered human dieoff, biological scientists have devised the perfect method of genocidal species extinction.
IN THE urban jungle of Juazeiro in Brazil, an army is being unleashed. It is an army like no other: the soldiers' mission is to copulate rather than fight. But they are harbingers of death, not love. Their children appear healthy at first but die just before they reach adulthood, struck down by the killer genes their fathers passed on to them.

These soldiers are the first of a new kind of creature - "autocidal" maniacs genetically modified to wipe out their own kind without harming other creatures....the approach should work with just about any animal - from invasive fish and frogs to rats and rabbits....it could transform the way we think about genetically engineered animals.

... the autocidal approach could not only be used to control invasive species such as cane toads, but that it is the only method that could work in many cases. "It's the only hope we have for the long-term control and eradication of these pests," he says. "Other efforts help, but in the end they are Band-Aids in the absence of a real solution."

Thresher has come up with a way to create fish that produce only male offspring. Releasing enough of these "daughterless" fish into the wild, with each passing on the daughterless habit, would turn a thriving invasive population into a bunch of reluctant bachelors destined for extinction.

...Models suggest that releasing enough daughterless carp to make up 5 per cent of the total population would effectively eradicate carp in the Murray-Darling basin by 2030. Thresher's models also suggest pests such as cane toads and rats could be tackled this way.

... One [approach] that has particular promise exploits chunks of "selfish" DNA that can spread themselves through the population and kill only when two copies are inherited. In theory a one-time release of just a few insects, rather than the continual release of millions, could wipe out a wild population (New Scientist, 22 March 2003).

The last paragraph from the excerpt above describes the most subtle approach, and perhaps the easiest approach to genocide for greens to take. But they should be prepared to wait several generations to see the completion of their grand project. Such an approach should also allow environmentalists to create an antidote, so they they themselves and their associates could continue to live and procreate indefinitely. Think of it: a master race of environmentalists, sitting back and watching most of the rest of humanity fade away.

It is an approach without gas chambers, without germs, poisons, bullets, or bombs. A clean, test-tube approach that could propagate death and genocide far more broadly than any method previously devised.

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12 September 2011

How a Rational US President Would Create Jobs Now

A rational US president who was genuinely concerned about revitalising the American economy, would first remove all unnecessary and nonsensical government impediments to business investment and enterprise. Commerce and industry are particularly susceptible to government restrictions on the energy, power, and fuels that run society's crucial machinery. That would be a good place to start.

Video h/t Washington Examiner

Imagine if all of Obama's devastating policies of energy starvation were revoked. The resulting growth of jobs, revenues, and energy production would be astounding. Growth of jobs directly involved in energy production, transport, and sales, would be just the beginning. Each new energy job would stimulate the creation of supporting jobs in services, housing, manufacturing, infrastructure, etc. And so it goes: growth breeds growth.

The images below are taken from a report released last week by Wood MacKenzie, looking at the impact of relaxing just a few of President Obama's anti-energy policies (h/t Powerlineblog).
Job Creation Under Relaxation of Obama Rules
Wood Mackenzie’s analysis found that U.S. policies which encourage the development of new and existing resources could, by 2030, increase domestic oil and natural gas production by over 10 million boed, support an additional 1.4 million jobs, and raise over $800 billion of cumulative additional government revenue.
Enhancement of Government Revenues Under Relaxation of Obama Anti-Energy Rules
The report assumes that the following changes would be made to existing Obama policies in order to allow energy and economic recovery to occur:
• Opening of Federal areas that are currently “off limits” to exploration and development
• Commencement of leasing, drilling and development activity in currently closed regions. Regions to be opened include: Eastern Gulf of Mexico, portions of the Rocky Mountains, Atlantic OCS, Pacific OCS, Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – 1002 Area, National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (NPRA) and Alaska offshore

• Lifting of drilling moratorium in New York State
• Commencement of drilling and development of Marcellus shale in New York State

• Increased rate of permitting in the offshore Gulf of Mexico
• Allows for a return to pre-Moratorium exploration and development activity

• Approval of the Keystone XL and other future Canada to U.S. oil pipelines
• Facilitates additional Canadian oil sands development, thereby increasing the demand for U.S. supplied equipment and infrastructure

• Regulation of shale resources remains predominately at the State level
• Environmental regulation of shale gas and tight oil plays are not duplicative or unduly burdensome. Permitting levels are at sufficient rates to develop resources in a timely manner _quoted_in_Powerlineblog
Increased Energy Production Due to Relaxation of Just a Few of Obama's Energy Starvation Rules

The improvements projected in the Wood MacKenzie report (PDF) are based largely on the revocation of Obama's de facto offshore oil moratorium, the approval of pipelines from Canada through the US for oil sands transport, and a cleaner and more streamlined set of regulations overseeing shale oil & gas production. The report also assumed an opening of currently blocked oil & gas resources in the Arctic and in the US mountain states, for development, and a reduction of duplication of bureaucratic environmental regulations.

In reality, according to Al Fin energy analysts, a more rational pro-energy policy would improve North American jobs, government revenues, and energy production far more quickly and to higher levels than the Wood Mackenzie report suggests. The reason our analysts are so confident is that potential for development of massive coal and kerogen deposits were not closely considered in the projections. Nor was the potential for development of advanced nuclear energy technologies for both uranium and thorium cycle reactors carefully considered.

Abundant energy opens the doors to other industries and commerce, which means more jobs and more revenues even in areas far removed from direct energy production or sales. The converse is true: energy starvation reduces jobs and revenues not only in the energy-related industries, but in society as a whole. And that is where the US stands under President Obama's policies.

Energy starvation -- shutting down reliable energy in favour of unreliable forms of energy such as big wind and solar -- is never a smart policy. It is a strongly ideological policy promoted by green faux environmental activists, with the unspoken aim of whittling away at the industry and commerce which support advanced economies. Economies which fall under the curse of energy-starvation policies slowly succumb to worsening economic conditions.

Adapted from an article published on Al Fin Energy

More: Three more places where Obama policies are holding back wealth and energy creation: Julia, Arctic, Bakken

The Obama agenda could not be more destructive of US jobs and the US economy if it were designed specifically to wreck the private sector.

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10 September 2011

Peak Oil: Meet Sophisticated Coal and Biomass to Liquids

There is more than 250 billion tons of recoverable U.S. coal reserves – equivalent to an estimated 800 billion barrels of oil, compared to Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves of 260 billion barrels

_National Mining Association_via_Accelergy.com

Accelergy's Coal Biomass to Liquids (CBTL) process utilises direct liquifaction of coal (using hydrogen from gasification of algal biomass and coal), combined with advanced catalytic processing of hydrotreated coal and hydrotreated algal lipids, to produce advanced hydrocarbon liquid fuels at high yields.

Accelergy is developing its coal biomass to liquids technology in several locations across the US, in China, and for the US military.
In the United States, Accelergy is working on demonstration facilities in Pennsylvania, Montana, and North Dakota. Accelergy's process can be tuned to utilize a wide range of feedstocks, and the company is currently exploring the use of both coal and natural gas in the U.S, along with biomass.

The company is also targeting its efforts in China since the country already has a small number of synthetic fuels plants where coal is converted to a liquid, he said. China is also the world's largest producer and consumer of coal. _Energy.AOL.com

Consider these facts about CBTL [Coal Biomass to Liquids]:

Abundant Supply: There is more than 250 billion tons of recoverable U.S. coal reserves – equivalent to an estimated 800 billion barrels of oil, compared to Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves of 260 billion barrels. (Source: National Mining Association)

Environmental Benefits: Combining the Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) and Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) processes, Accelergy removes 20% of the CO₂ emissions associated with standard refining methods, resulting in cleaner fuels that reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions and enabling use of higher efficiency engines.

Reliable Sources: Coal currently provides more than half of the nation’s electricity and is the largest single source of overall domestic energy production at more than 31% of the total, according to the National Mining Association. Additionally, our feedstocks can be grown domestically an land deemed unsuitable for food crop cultivation. _Accelergy

More on direct coal liquefaction:
• Direct liquefaction processes add hydrogen to the hydrogen deficient organic structure of the coal, breaking it down only as far as is necessary to produce distillable liquids.
• Coal dissolution is accomplished under high temperature (~400 0 C) and pressure (~1500-3000 psi) with hydrogen and a coal-derived solvent.
• The coal fragments are further hydrocracked to produce a synthetic crude oil.
• This synthetic crude must then undergo refinery upgrading and hydrotreating to produce acceptable transportation fuels. _Direct Liquefaction of Coal PDF
More on Accelergy's licensing of Exxon Mobil technologies

Accelergy patent dealing with a related but variant process

More on Accelergy's potentially lucrative move into the Chinese market

Accelergy's approach to CBTL is rather sophisticated, involving some advanced Exxon Mobil technology along with other imaginative innovations. The fact that Accelergy is working with the US military, with civilian US entities, and inside China, indicates that the company is following an aggressive path of expansion and development.

Taken from a previous posting at Al Fin Energy

With its vast resources of coal, natural gas, bitumens, kerogens, oil, uranium, thorium, and more, North America is well situated to transition from the fossil fuel age to the advanced fission / fusion age.

Bad government is a far greater threat to North America and Europe than resource depletion, climate catastrophe, or overpopulation doom. Fear only bad government and the accompanying twin demons of debt and demographic decline.

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09 September 2011

It Will Take More than Willpower to Reverse a Rising Tide of Stupidity

Is the ancient virtue of willpower still relevant in the modern age?
We eat, drink, smoke and gamble too much, max out our credit cards, fall into dangerous liaisons and become addicted to heroin, cocaine and e-mail.

...In experiments beginning in the late 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel tormented preschoolers with the agonizing choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes from now. When he followed up decades later, he found that the 4-year-olds who waited for two marshmallows turned into adults who were better adjusted, were less likely to abuse drugs, had higher self-esteem, had better relationships, were better at handling stress, obtained higher degrees and earned more money. _NYT

A more scientific term for willpower is executive function (EF), coordinated in the prefrontal lobes of the brain. Together with intelligence (IQ), levels of EF powerfully determine life success over the years. EF can be improved by training in children, but such training should occur between the ages of 4 and 7 for maximum benefit.

The interaction of willpower and stupidity is more complex than most people understand. First, what do we mean by "stupidity?"
"A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses."

"Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation."

"Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake."

"Our daily life is mostly, made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation - or better there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid." _Science20

Stupidity arises from multiple causes. Low intelligence, spite, ignorance, laziness (lack of willpower), miscalculation, and unavoidable constraint propagation (bad luck) are just a few of the many causes of stupidity and stupid people.

In the United States, stupidity has become concentrated near seats of power such as Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. Government is one obvious host and purveyor of mass stupidity, along with all other institutions which are closely involved with government -- such as labour unions, news media, education, financial and economic institutions, law enforcement, the courts etc. Even the military -- which believe it or not is the most competent branch of government -- has been infiltrated by politically correct stupidity via social promotion of PC-favoured officers and the enforcement of politically correct policies.

Labour unions have become the seat of stupidity in a particular way recently, thanks to the union-friendly Obama regime. A violent storming, vandalism, and assault of a port in Washington state goes unpunished by government officials. While warming up a crowd for President Obama, Jimmy Hoffa Jr. tells Obama to "take out the son of a bitches," referring to Tea Party members and Republicans, and neither Hoffa nor the Obama White House will apologise for this rather blatant lapse of civility in the midst of an official Obama event. AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka dictates to Obama what he needs to say in his jobs speech before a joint session of congress -- encouraging the president to "go to the mat" -- and is rewarded for his presumption by being seated next to Michelle Obama for the president's speech.

These are all examples of stupidity by labour union officials and thugs. But many more similar examples occur on a regular basis. If the general public were to become widely aware of this stupidity, the political fortunes of Mr. Obama and those close to him would deteriorate even more quickly than at present. But for now, the news media continues to overlook and cover up the mistakes of Obama and his friends.

Mr. Obama's stupidity is not only in his friends and hangers on, but is engrained in every policy that he has pursued since being inaugurated. His war against the private sector, his war against energy, his promotion of a bankrupting "green jobs agenda," his vilifying of national allies and his cozying up with national antagonists, his diverting of scarce national assets into the purses of political cronies, his irreversible expansion of government mandate and government debt, his unprecedentedly divisive effect on society -- all of these evidences of stupidity and more should be enough to portray Obama's administration as "the stupid regime."

It should be obvious that willpower is not a simple antidote to stupidity. In fact, stupid people often pursue their stupid agendas with the utmost will.

It is true that if the masses had exerted more willpower in their oversight of government and government officials, that this massive clusterfuck could have never grown so bad so quickly. But that was then, and this is now. What do we do now?

Can the example problem -- the rise of stupidity in US government and society -- be solved within the existing political and societal structure, or will entirely new structures and forms of organisation have to be constructed de novo?

This question will be explored in future articles.

Cross-posted to abu al-fin

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08 September 2011

Taking Overpopulation Seriously: Forced Mass Sterilisation

A program of sterilizing women...despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men.
The development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin...opens additional possibilities for coercive fertility control. The capsule could be implanted at puberty and might be removable, with official permission, for a limited number of births.

...Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods... would pose some very difficult political, legal, and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems....To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective... _Obama Science Advisor John Holdren

More ideas here
World Without Humans
If humans are to deal with overpopulation, they may need to take some extreme measures, such as those favoured by people very close to US President Obama. Involuntary sterilisation and spiking water supplies with contraceptives are two of the suggestions that leftists of the environmentalist persuasion tend to throw around a lot, at get-togethers. Fortunately for such concerned leftists, Oregon health scientists are developing a new generation of contraceptives which might fit their needs:
... the contraceptive OHSU researchers are developing is not hormonal and [is] more focused on mechanisms that directly result in the release of an egg. This new approach targets the key enzymes responsible for the release of an egg.

...This research...has demonstrated that targeting these enzymes can prevent the release of an egg from the ovary. The next step for Hennebold and colleagues is to determine the delivery method of such a drug and the timetable for medication.

"Our hope is that the next generation of birth control is more targeted and has a higher effectiveness level," added Hennebold. _SD
Mass sterilisation is a common topic in fiction and in speculative writing. Sometimes the act of mass sterilisation is initiated by humans, and sometimes extraterrestrials or natural forces are to blame.

A program of mass sterilisation was actually carried out on remote villagers in Peru, and was attempted unsuccessfully in India.

In the context of widespread modern anxiety related to climate change, resource depletion, global pollution, animal species extinction, peak oil, and overpopulation, the idea of forced mass sterilisation of humans seems a very attractive idea to many in the left environmentalist movement. The news item below has been re-written by Al Fin political scientists to better reflect much of the modern thought current among leftist environmentalist thought leaders:
Tomorrow They Vote for Either Mass Sterilisation or Mass Killing
On Tuesday, April 5, the United States Department of Populations will choose between mass sterilization or killing, life or death, for residents in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York, in the first use of new overpopulation legislation passed recently by the US Congress, and signed by the president.

The legislative project adopted by the US Congress promoting mass sterilisation was completely altered by the USDP to allow for the possibility of mass killings in certain situations where the need to reduce populations is particularly dire.

If the choice were left to the states themselves, it is likely that they would choose mass sterilisation over mass euthanasia. The federal government of the United States has decided that the issue is too important to be left to the states.

Environmental advisors to the president and to the congress prefer the use of mass euthanasia -- "to get it over with as quickly as possible." But overpopulation denialists continue to lobby the federal government, as protestors from across the US fill the Washington DC mall into the millions.
_Original Unaltered News Item

As you can see, Al Fin political scientists have mutilated the original item almost beyond recognition. But when it comes to the overpopulation crisis -- or any environmental crisis -- the ends justify the means.

In the interest of fairness, we will present a contrary viewpoint from pro-natalist Bryan Caplan:
The sterilization of half mankind would...be a horrible tragedy of epic proportions. But we wouldn't be losing the society we've got. We'd just be losing the society we could have had: Millions of new creative geniuses, and billions of additional people who'd enjoy being alive. If human beings were built differently, we might inconsolably miss the descendents we never had. For most of us, though, it's "out of sight, out of mind." We miss people we knew and lost a thousand times more than people who were never conceived. _BryanCaplan
Mr. Caplan brings up an interesting point: Once the mass sterilisation program is carried out, the people will never know the difference. They cannot possibly miss the people who are never conceived, never born -- people they never knew. Can they?

It is important that any program of mass sterilisation and/or euthanasia incorporate a wide range of safeguards to be sure that nothing goes wrong with the planning or execution. Most importantly, the elite environmentalists among us who have designed this program to save the planet and its many non-human species, must survive and prosper in the brave new world we create. Denialists and non-believers will be left in the dustbin of history, by any means necessary.

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