30 November 2008

Which Will Collapse First? Russia or the US

Russian politicians predict great calamities for the US, and one Russian analyst predicts the US will soon collapse and break apart--perhaps as soon as next spring? But it is the much smaller and more narrow-based economy of Russia that appears to be in the biggest trouble.
Prices are on the rise from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in Russia's far east. Unemployment is growing rapidly, and even management at Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, is slashing its own salaries by 60 percent. There has been no official acknowledgement of any of these problems. _Spiegel
While the Russian government needs the price of oil to be at least $75 a barrel, the actual price has spent a lot of time recently below $55 a barrel. Putin's bluster would sound less like a squeal if his oil-dependent economy was running on more than vapours.
Russia's economy is spiraling downhill much faster than many expected just a few weeks ago. Companies have slashed up to a fifth of their staff, economists have drastically cut their growth forecasts, there are concerns of a steep currency devaluation and oil prices are in the doldrums — no good thing for an economy based on energy exports.

As the economy buckles, speculation is rising over how the country's leadership — which has so far played down the crisis — will weather the storm.

During his eight-year presidency, Vladimir Putin rode a wave of popularity as the country prospered on soaring oil profits and flexed its military muscle. But as the signs of his successes crumble around him, Putin, now prime minister, is heading for his toughest popularity test yet. _Source
The transformation of Russia into a thuggish oil dictatorship--similar to Iran and Venezuela--has not made it easier for Tsar Vlad to reassure a Russian public that has long grown accustomed to being lied to by their government.
“The Iranians, the Russians and the Venezuelans, who had benefited the most from the rise in price, are the ones paying dearly now with the collapse,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a veteran energy analyst.

...The Russian energy minister, Sergei Shmatko, on Tuesday suggested that his country might reduce its output in tandem with OPEC. He said that Russia required $95 a barrel next year, otherwise its budget would be strained and its currency would suffer.

But with its production already declining this year because of a lack of investments, it is unlikely that Russia will follow through, analysts said. _NYT
While the destruction of the US economy and the US Constitution by Obama and the Pelosi Congress is a work in progress, the fragile economy of Russia and its rapidly dwindling population of ethnic Russians, is a fait accompli--largely contributed to by Tsar Vlad himself.

Russia is once again a land of state-controlled media, diminishing freedoms of speech by private citizens, and a resurgence of the SVR (replacement for the KGB), along with an increasingly brutal foreign policy that seems to be attempting to reformulate the failed USSR.

So, is it a race to the collapse between the old cold war adversaries? Not so fast. A lot of things are certain to happen between now and the collapse, which should surprise most of us. The incompetent new US government must still perform the unutterably stupid acts of dissolution it has promised its moon fluttering candle flame bombing supporters, before the US economy will be stuck at low tide. Only if the narcissist-elect and his loony crew of congressional enablers follow through on their electoral promises, will the western world truly be in big trouble.

That is what Putin is counting on, because it is the only thing that will shoot oil costs through the roof and save the oil tyrants--for the US to commit economic suicide, as Obama has promised. If Obama turns the US into a dead carcass, Putin will be more than happy to feed off the remains.


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Western Culture is Better

Geert Wilders is one politician who is tired of pretending that western culture is on the same level as primitive religious cultures that advocate "honour killings", "bloody jihad religious wars", and the universally bloody and intolerant borders of Islam. Wilders feels it is time for someone to state publicly that western culture is better--before the west surrenders unconditionally to the barbarians.
Having his own party liberates Mr. Wilders to speak his mind. As he sees it, the West suffers from an excess of toleration for those who do not share its tradition of tolerance. "We believe that -- 'we' means the political elite -- that all cultures are equal," he says. "I believe this is the biggest disease today facing Europe. . . . We should wake up and tell ourselves: You're not a xenophobe, you're not a racist, you're not a crazy guy if you say, 'My culture is better than yours.' A culture based on Christianity, Judaism, humanism is better. Look at how we treat women, look at how we treat apostates, look at how we go with the separation of church and state. I can give you 500 examples why our culture is better."

He acknowledges that "the majority of Muslims in Europe and America are not terrorists or violent people." But he says "it really doesn't matter that much, because if you don't define your own culture as the best, dominant one, and you allow through immigration people from those countries to come in, at the end of the day you will lose your own identity and your own culture, and your society will change. And our freedom will change -- all the freedoms we have will change."

The murder of van Gogh lends credence to this warning, as does the Muhammad cartoon controversy of 2005 in Denmark....It is difficult to fault Mr. Wilders's impassioned defense of free speech. And although the efforts to silence him via legal harassment have proved far from successful, he rightly points out that they could have a chilling effect, deterring others from speaking out. _WSJ
Muslims disagree violently with any culture they come into contact with. They clearly do not understand the concept of religious tolerance--preferring instead to divide the world into the "house of Islam" and the "house of war." In other words, it is their religious duty to make war with anyone or anything who is not "Islam", as interpreted by their own sect of Islam. That is why even within Islam itself, muslims are killing each other.

No place on Earth is completely safe from muslim extremism, since muslim terrorism and murder takes place everywhere, in every country, on every continent. Europe is particularly vulnerable, since European women have chosen not to give birth to the next generation of Europeans. This anti-natalist stance forces governments to import workers from the third world in order to attempt to keep the national economies going, so that the huge pension and welfare benefits can be paid.

The same anti-natalist dynamic is occurring in Russia and Canada, as well as Europe, but it is in Europe where the confrontation between third world Islam and first world western culture is most acute.

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Male Superiority In Spatial Ability Comes Early

As early as a few months of age, male babies begin showing superior spatial abilities to female babies. Angry feminists such as Nancy Hopkins are apt to faint with rage at these findings, but nevertheless, science must have its say.
Males typically outperform females on spatial-ability tests by age 4, especially on tasks that require mental rotation of objects perceived as three-dimensional. Yet, two studies of 3- to 5-month-olds, both published in the November Psychological Science, conclude that a substantially greater proportion of boys than girls distinguish a block arrangement from its mirror image, after having first seen the block arrangement rotated.

...Moore and Johnson showed 20 boys and 20 girls, all 5 months old, videos of a block arrangement rotating back and forth through a 240° angle. Each child sat in his or her mother’s lap as the mother kept her eyes closed. After tiring of looking at this image, infants saw alternating videos of the original block arrangement or its mirror image rotating through a 120° angle.

Video records of infants’ gaze and head movements revealed that 14 boys, or 70 percent of them, preferred looking at mirror images, compared with 9 girls, or 45 percent of them.

Quinn and Liben showed 12 boys and 12 girls, all 3 to 4 months old, a series of images of either a black number 1 or its mirror image, each drawn to appear three-dimensional and situated at a different degree of rotation. Each baby then saw presentations of both the number 1 and its mirror image in a new degree of rotation.

In the latter trials, 11 boys preferred looking at the image that they hadn’t seen before, compared with 5 girls.

It may be possible to study mental rotation in babies within the first few days after birth, Quinn says. _ScienceNews
These are fascinating findings, needing further elaboration and explication. But these two studies certainly confirm each other, and add more bricks to the cohesive structure of male superiority in spatial abilities over the life span.

Feminists all too often deny evolutionary differences--apparently out of ideological and political stances that prevent them from acknowledging even painfully apparent gender differences that may favour males. Now, under Obamanation, expect a significant increase in science/evolution-denial by well placed academics of a certain political slant (neo-leftist).

As with the carbon hysterics involved with the global warming orthodoxy, gender and race hucksters involved in human biodiversity denial cannot afford to let science have its say unhindered by their own biased political viewpoints. Obama is likely to be sympathetic to the science deniers, unfortunately.

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Palin to Critics: Thanks Loads, Chumps!!!

Sarah Palin's self-appointed enemies in the media and the blogosphere have kept the Alaska Governor's name alive in print, on the air, and over the internet. Some bloggers have practically herniated themselves in their blue-faced effort to portray Palin as being less intelligent than Albert Einstein. How is all of this "bad publicity" affecting Palin's popularity? Well, for one thing, there is no such thing as "bad publicity."
Palin has been the subject of intense online fascination since her introduction as the Republican nominee on Aug. 29. In September, the Anchorage Daily News reported a 928 percent spike in traffic, according to Nielsen Online. Her mid-October “Saturday Night Live” appearance drove the show’s highest rating in 14 years, and her Oct. 2 debate with Joe Biden was the most watched vice presidential debate ever — drawing more viewers than any of the three presidential debates between McCain and Obama.

...A recent YouTube clip that featured her being interviewed while, unbeknownst to her, a turkey was slaughtered in the background was the site's most-viewed clip over the last week. Two of the top 10 video moments of 2008, according to Truveo, an online video search engine, also involve Palin — a “Saturday Night Live” skit that mocks her and the governor’s ill-fated interview with Katie Couric of CBS.

..Palin's continuous presence in the news has played a role in the unabated levels of search activity. First she was buffeted by anonymous criticism from the McCain camp after the ticket's defeat, then she cut a high profile at the Republican Governors Association meeting one week later. In between, she sat for an interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News and delivered the show's largest audience of the year.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Palin was the second-leading newsmaker for the week of Nov. 10-16, trailing only Obama and ranking ahead of President Bush, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and McCain in the number of stories about her.

“As long as she’s still in the mainstream media, it will continue to fuel her presence online. She’s sort of fanning the flames just by showing up,” said Phil Noble, president of PoliticsOnline and a pioneering consultant in online politics. “The other issue is that at some point people become permanent celebrities. She may have just reached that status.” _ Source
Governor Palin is certainly more intelligent and accomplished than most of her detractors. More importantly, Palin has authentic competence and character that her critics could only dream of--if they had any idea what competence and character were in the first place.

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29 November 2008

Glaciers Grow, Earth Cools, People Grumble

There is both growing public reluctance to make personal sacrifices and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the major international efforts now underway to battle climate change, according to findings of a poll of 12,000 citizens in 11 countries, including Canada. _Source
As if to scoff at the global warming orthodoxy, Mother Nature has decided to treat Europe to unseasonably cold weather. So naturally, ski resorts are opening early.

Glaciers in Norway and Alaska that had been shrinking for decades and more, have begun to accumulate new snow and ice. Although Al Gore chose not to mention it during his recent appearance on Oprah, glaciers in the US Pacific Northwest are also growing. More on Alaskan glacier growth at this PDF file.

We are seeing the shift of climate regimes, from warmer PDO and AMO oscillations, to the cool phases of each oscillation. This cooler climate regime is likely to last for decades. Meanwhile, solar activity has gone quiet again, raising the spectre of a "solar minimum" to go along with the cooler ocean oscillations. Even worse, some scientists are beginning to raise the old warning that we are overdue for the next ice age. A word to the wise.

Narcissist-elect Obama rode the global warming horse all the way to the White House, without once mentioning the fact that Earth's climate has been cooling for almost ten years. Obama hopes that his special charismatic style of denial will be enough to bring EU climate ministers back into unanimity, within the orthodoxer fold. But since climate extremism, such as Obama and Gore advocate, is deadly to economic prosperity, the EU would have to feel particularly suicidal to continue along its current path. A suicidal Europe would be nothing new, however.

Because of economic hard times, Obama himself may find it difficult to persuade many US legislators to pass suicidal climate regulations, despite his political party holding overwhelming control of Congress. If so, he will bypass Congress and use presidential powers via the executive branch to institute energy-starvation policies via the EPA. The more likely scenario is that enough members of Congress can be bought with pork, so as to provide Obama's anti-CO2 jihad with Congressional cover.

Many members of the "loyal opposition" say that Obama cannot possibly be as bad for the US as his record, his associations, his public statements, and his autobiographies say he will be. Whatever. Do what you want to do. The rest of us may choose to make alternate preparations, just in case.

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28 November 2008

Bootcamp for Professionals: Quick Hard Knowledge for Ambitious Outsiders

Successful professionals can not afford to ever stop learning. When a professional attends a conference within his field, it is called continuing education. But what about those who need to significantly expand their knowledge into a new field, but cannot take the time to go back to school? For them, there are "boot camps." Intensive, week-long or longer courses designed for the outsider, by insiders. Here is a good example, H/T Brain Waves:
Neuroscience is increasingly relevant to a number of professions and academic disciplines beyond its traditional medical applications. Lawyers, educators, economists and businesspeople, as well as scholars of sociology, philosophy, applied ethics and policy, are incorporating the concepts and methods of neuroscience into their work. Indeed, for any field in which it is important to understand, predict or influence human behavior, neuroscience will play an increasing role. The Penn Neuroscience Boot Camp is designed to give participants a basic foundation in cognitive and affective neuroscience and to equip them to be informed consumers of neuroscience research.

...Through a combination of lectures, break-out groups, panel discussions and laboratory visits, participants will gain an understanding of the methods of neuroscience and key findings on the cognitive and social-emotional functions of the brain, lifespan development and disorders of brain function.

Each lecture will be followed by extensive Q&A. Break-out groups will allow participants to delve more deeply into topics of relevance to their fields. Laboratory visits will include trip to an MRI scanner, an EEG/ERP lab, an animal neurophysiology lab, and a transcranial magnetic stimulation lab. Participants will also have access to an extensive online library of copyrighted materials selected for relevance to the Boot Camp, including classic and review articles and textbook chapters in cognitive and affective neuroscience and the applications of neuroscience to diverse fields.

The Boot Camp faculty consists of leaders in the fields of cognitive and affective neuroscience who are committed to the goal of educating non-neuroscientists. Several of our faculty have won awards for their teaching.

...The only prerequisites are a grasp of basic statistics and at least a dim recollection of high school biology and physics. (A short set of readings will be made available prior to the Boot Camp to remind you about the essentials.) _UPennNeuroscienceCamp
Roughly ten days of neuroscience for $3000. If you can get your employer to pay for it, fine, otherwise weigh the costs and benefits. Considering the generally abysmal coverage of scientific topics by "science journalists", it might be worthwhile for media outlets that cover science to sponsor one of their "science journalists" for this camp.

The concept is widely applicable across science, engineering, medicine, and other complex and somewhat insular fields which should be made more easily accessible to larger parts of the general public.

The internet contains huge numbers of free journal articles, textbooks, audio/video lectures, and other types of media access to otherwise esoteric fields of science, technology, and learning. But for some people, only the intensive face-to-face experience will serve.

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Obama: Incompetence Beyond Redemption

There are different types of incompetence. There is the incompetence of inexperience, which may go away with time, training, and hard knocks. Then there is the incompetence of set ideological trajectory. That type of incompetence is incapable of learning from mistakes. It is doomed to spectacular failure with huge collateral damage. That is the type of incompetence that Obama and his incoming administration--along with the new Congress--possess.

All around the web, one hears the voices of the loyal opposition loudly proclaim that they are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt--at least until February. That is quite sporting of them, actually, and also quite stupid. It is like a New Orleans resident saying that he will give Hurricane Katrina the benefit of a doubt, at least for a day or two after the city begins flooding. Not very bright and certainly not prescient.

Obama is a disaster written in neon lights by everything that we know about the man, his associates, his backers, and what he has been done since his election. With a clueless executive and an out of control ideologically rabid congress on the loose, the disasters borne of incompetence could come fast and furious.

Government is turning into the most significant problem for US citizens in their entire lives. In the name of "looking out for the little guy", the new reich promises to destroy every opportunity for private sector advancement, startups, saving, and other traditional methods of working one's own way up in the world. Instead, Obama offers endless taxes, regulations, the shutdown of most large sources of vital energy and power supply, a huge open door for labour unions to takeover whole industries, and a cordial invitation to trial lawyers to tear down what little can be built up in an environment wholly hostile to business and industry.

If you are a person of conscience who is a military member, or a civil service worker, what do you do when your own government and employer declares war on US Constitutional rights and liberties? What do you do when the government goes on the attack against the producer classes, chokes off innovation, starves the nation of vital energy? You retire if you can. If not, what are the choices--not only for government workers of integrity but for anyone with a lot to lose from the oppressive neo-fascist style of government that Obama and cohorts appear to be bringing into existence?

The answer to that question will be the topic of a series of postings at various Al Fin blogs over the next several weeks. The question is one that psychological neotenates and the academically lobotomised will never ask. But the rest of us have no choice.

The answer will not involve violence or open insurrection. When the extreme hardship consequences of the incoming reich's policies hits the population, the violence that naturally results will be something that Al Fin readers should know how to avoid and protect against. There will be plenty of anger and violence without more informed and aware people adding to it.

Some bloggers are discussing various destinations in the world, to sit out the Obamapocalypse and Obamageddon. I am not ready to set my escape in motion as of yet. North America has been one of my favourite parts of the world for a long time. I am not prepared to abandon this amazing continent, yet.

Scattered throughout North America are large numbers of enclaves of semi-autonomous regions, with their own governments, law enforcement, and internal rules of law. Besides the official semi-autonomous enclaves are many unofficial semi-autonomous enclaves of various degrees of functionality. It should not be too difficult to devise a network of quasi-invisible, semi-autonomous enclaves of cooperating groups, functioning with minimal contact with the US or Canadian federal governments.

Do not expect ideological, ethnic, religious, or even linguistic homogeneity among these groups. Only a cooperative dedication to freedom. Time to start building, and no time to spare.

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27 November 2008

Tribal Africa: Time's Cruel Prank

Africa has the largest number of active tribes on the planet, over 500 at last count...tribal violence is on the rise again. A good case in point is Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation. Nigeria has some 250 "ethnic groups" (most organized as tribes around shared customs, language and culture) in a population of 122 million. Pre-colonial tribal warfare is returning... In the last decade, nearly ten million have died from tribal violence in Africa. _StrategyPage
Africa sits atop vast mineral wealth, and unsurpassed agricultural potential. All that is lacking is political stability, trained and skilled people, and good leadership. Africa currently lacks all three.
In northern Africa, the African Union, Algeria and Morocco are at loggerheads over the occupation of Western Sahara. In Central Africa, a century old crisis that has claimed over 5 million lives threatens to annihilate the Democratic Republic of Congo. In eastern Africa, Kenya is in a state of ceasefire following the 2007 post-election violence. Angry Tanzanians recently pelted their president’s motorcade with stones while former officials from the East Africa Community barricaded Tanzanian highways. The war in Northern Uganda persists. Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to trade tirades in the Horn of Africa. Sudan’s Darfur crisis still lingers. Somalia’s crisis has taken an international dimension through the escalating piracy in high seas. In West Africa, the Niger Delta crisis still persists. Currently, Nigerian militants have threatened to interrupt shipping. Guinea Bissau’s President, Joao Bernardo Vieira has just survived a coup attempt. The attacks against other nationalities in South Africa and imminent implosion of the ANC paint a gloomy picture of Africa’s economic powerhouse. Zimbabwe is yet to end its power sharing stalemate. _Source via _Booker
And those are only a few of Africa's problems. With tribal warfare comes the overthrow of governments, and the potential clashes between African "states." Scores of "more advanced" nations stand ready--like vultures--to supply African combatants with all the weapons they can pay for. China currently holds the inside position as the main African arms supplier, but Russia, Europe and the US also participate in the exchange of weapons for mineral wealth.

In the meantime, infectious diseases--including HIV and malaria--continue to deplete Africa's human capital before it can mobilize to help itself. The most successful nation in Sub Saharan Africa--South Africa--is being decimated by HIV, corruption, loss of critical infrastructure, crime, and a slow, steady regression to the African mean of poverty and hopelessness. Not what Nelson Mandela envisioned.

To most of the rest of the world--China, India, Europe, Islam, Russia, etc.--Africa represents a ripe fruit, plump and waiting to be plucked off the tree. To the people of Africa, it is a place of poverty, disease, violence. Yet hope and optimism still spring up in the unlikeliest places.

With proper leadership and respite from violence--and protection from exploitation from the outer world--Africa might grow into a productive and prosperous place. If only time and the outside world would leave Africa to its own self-development, under wise leadership. Unfortunately, time will play its cruel prank on any creature who thinks he can escape it. And the outside world? The outside world has just begun to simmer up to a boil.


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26 November 2008

Portrait of a Male Mind

The male mind is oriented outward, toward problems in the larger world. Other than perhaps Ray Kurzweil, there is no more prominent example of the problem-solving nature of the male mind than inventor Dean Kamen. Esquire presents an engaging portrait of the inventor and what his male mind is focusing on currently.
... there's nothing so soothing as cutting a piece of steel when it's late and you can't sleep because you're trying to work out some problem in your head. Because machines are more than machines, they're a road map to the people who built them. They tell you what kind of problems they had and what they wanted. Just as Kamen's inventions are his own autobiography in steel -- every one designed to cheat gravity, to declare independence, to make every man the king of his own empire.

He leads the way to the cupola at the top and watches the sunset, chattering happily. This is why he never got married or had children. He loves being away from everywhere, completely alone. He can watch planes land at the airport. He can watch the weather change. And it doesn't bother him that he usually comes home at nine or ten and drops into bed exhausted. It's like the private island he rarely visits, the girlfriend he rarely sees, the vacations he never takes. It's the idea that counts. Just knowing he has it is enough. Anyway, what should he stop doing? FIRST? Water? Power? Medical equipment? "I can't stop," he says. "As a practical matter, I can't put the world on hold."

He really can't. There's just too much he wants to do. When he proved that FIRST worked, he was sure it would be in every school in the country the next year. Same with the Segway. It's 100 percent more efficient than cars, those metal boxes designed for the open road when 50 percent of the people alive live in cities. It's just stupid. It's lunacy. And someday, the Slingshot will go into production, too. And one of the kids from FIRST will win the Nobel prize or cure cancer. But it takes time for an innovation to become a commodity. Because the Wright brothers flew a plane and it was a long time before frequent-flier miles. You have to be patient, give the world time to catch up.

For fun, he's starting to dream about something that flies. A new form of personal transportation. It will be, he says, Dumplonian. It will empower the individual.

Some kind of helicopter?

"Not a helicopter," he says, staring intently at the helicopter. "I've got a couple of ideas." He smiles, turning inward for a moment, lost in the vision of a new machine. _Esquire
When thinking about such inventor-spirits, only a few names come to mind after one remembers Edison, Bell, Marconi, Tesla, Carver, Burbank, Turing, von Neumann. But there are many lesser known inventors, and some destined to become legends. Besides Kamen and Kurzweil, there are Lonnie Johnson, John Kanzius, and a host of others in America alone.

Almost all of them are men. There have also been women inventors, since a woman's mind is as clever as a man's on average. Temple Grandin is an example, although being an autistic may place her mind closer to the male mode of thought. But historically, the female mind has focused upon issues close at hand, of more immediate practical or esthetic use. The male mind will typically cast farther afield for ideas, connections, and implications--and into the more distant past and future.

So even now, in a time when feminists have sacked the university and made the public sphere virtually uninhabitable in many ways for men who are themselves, or who dare to speak their minds--now is as good a time as any to celebrate the world transforming potential of the male mind.

H/T Kurzweilai.net

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25 November 2008

Watts Up With That Scores Hottest Climate Post

Anthony Watts' important and highly popular climate blog "Watts Up With That" has posted a fascinating and explosive guest article from Bill Illis that looks at global temperatures after adjusting for the ocean oscillations ENSO and AMO. Bill's analysis clearly shows that after adjusting for the temperature variation caused by ocean oscillations, there is very little "climate change" signature left.

The greenhouse effect of atmospheric CO2 follows a logarithmic curve with CO2 concentration. As CO2 levels continue to rise, the greenhouse temperature boost from CO2 flattens out. Far from being a "tipping point" the climate effects from rising CO2 fade out.So that what we continue to see is a progressive divergence of climate models away from the observed temperature readings.

The sun drives the ocean oscillations. Ocean oscillations plus water vapour/cloud effects then drive Earth's climate. CO2 has only a marginal effect. The Earth is currently undergoing a cooling phase.

Too bad the US just elected a batch of carbon hysterics who are poised to take the US economy to the blood baths. Oh well. Perhaps Canada, Europe, and New Zealand will escape some of the self-inflicted slaughter to be perpetrated by alarmist climate orthodoxers. We know that India, China, and Russia will not submit themselves to the idiotic carbon hysteria religion of self-flagellation.


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Personal Flight Goes VTOL

This personal tilt rotor cruises at 230 mph, but takes off and lands vertically. It is powered by a serial hybrid system, utilising twin electric motors for prop power, with auxiliary battery power for takeoffs, landings, and flight transition. The batteries are kept topped off by a lightweight 104 hp two stroke IC engine. The inventor hopes to limit empty weight for the prototype to 1000 pounds. A lot of work remains to be done to achieve a flightworthy rating.

The gentleman on your left is flying a personal hydrogen peroxide chemical rocket pack. He has flown 457 metres over the Arkansas River's 321 metre deep Royal Gorge. It took him 21 seconds to make the flight--leaving him a full 9 seconds reserve power, for safety.

These vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight systems are meant as single person devices. Safety is obviously not the first priority in the early stages of development. Test pilots have to be of a special breed--not likely to be trial lawyers or politicians. Test pilots have to have courage and nerves of steel. They understand what it means to live entirely in the present, or they do not live very long at all. They take responsibility for their own lives every moment.

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Boron Optimistic About The Future

While most financial pundits present a pessimistic view of the near future, Boron adopts a contrarian and optimistic position. Al Fin caught up with Boron at a recent industrial materials conference in Miami.

AF: This is the first time I have interviewed an element. How do you prefer to be addressed?

B: No need to stand on formality, Al. Just call me B.

AF: Thank you, B. To begin, what makes you so special? Almost everyone in the world is pessimistic about the economic future. Why are you so upbeat?

B: Well, Al, I have always felt that I have an important destiny. Even back in the days when Ronald Reagan was the only one who would speak up for me, I never gave up hope. Things are different now. Now I'm a big deal--everybody wants a piece of me!

AF: How do you explain all the new found fame, B?

B: Brian Wang at NextBigFuture has been a great help in telling people about my new compound BAM (boron-aluminium-magnesium) and how it's slicker than teflon and almost as hard as diamond! BAM is going to be a very big deal in industry.

AF: Yes, I quite agree, B. BAM is an incredibly impressive coating material for all types of industrial uses. What else has you so upbeat?

B: Haven't you heard, Al? Scientists are starting to make all kinds of nanostructures out of me. Boron buckyballs, footballs--fullerenes of all kinds. My goal is to make a better nanotube than Carbon! Take that, C!

AF: Yes, well, good luck with that. What else?

B: Have you heard of my ceramic solid Boron Nitride? It has some impressive properties chemically, thermally, mechanically, electrically, and in terms of machinability. Very corrosion resistant too. Another big deal.

AF: Very nice. Anything else?

B: Yes. I may be crucial to cheap, abundant fusion energy. Humans have depended on Carbon for their energy supplies for too long.

AF: Is it possible to get too much of you, B?

B: Well, I am an important nutrient for helping maintain bone structure and bone calcium for humans. And I have a lot of other beneficial effects on the human body including maintaining magnesium levels. But, yes, you can get too much, even of me.

AF: Thanks so much for your time, B. Any parting thoughts?

B: Always remember, boys and girls, even when everyone else in the world is counting you out, keep believing in yourself. I did, and just look at me now!
This has been the first in a series of Al Fin interviews with the elements. Next in line is Carbon, long accustomed to special status among the elements. Stay tuned to discover how Carbon is dealing with these latest challenges from Boron for energy and nano supremacy.


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China, Russia See Golden Opportunity to Strengthen and Expand Axis of Instability

During the cold war, the USSR moved far and wide over the globe to promote insurrection, terrorism, and general instability. When the USSR collapsed due to domestic dissatisfaction, corruption, and non-viability of its centralised economic system, Russian global de-stabilisation efforts were temporarily de-funded. Peace began to break out all over the world, and pundits predicted "the end of history," with permanent global peace and democracy.

But when former KGB operator Vladimir Putin reached the peak of power in Russia, seized Russia's huge private energy assets for his own to control, and eliminated or neutralised all meaningful rivals, the global Russian trouble machine was back in business. There was but one huge problem with Putin's global plans for mischief-making: the Russian population has been shrinking dramatically for decades due to high death rates and low birth rates. Putin understands that a huge, rich Russia empty of people is in no position to be a long-term hegemon. If Putin were to challenge the combined economic might of the west and the military might of the US, he has to have a credible economic, strategic, technological, and manpower threat.

Where could the Russian tyrant find such a partner, willing to join him in creating instability and mayhem around the world in order to de-stabilise western hegemony? Sometimes the answer is as close as your own backyard.
Russian media reports on the meeting in the Peruvian capital quoted Hu saying the two must work together against "the most deep and serious changes since the Cold War."

Meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Medvedev told Hu the current world problems should not inhibit both sides from "discussing fully fledged cooperative, strategic relations in all their fullness," Russian media reported.

Russia and China, once bitter Cold War foes, have been developing increasingly close relations, seen by many as a potential check on US power. _SpaceWar
The economic might of the current world hegemon--the United States--is almost four times larger than China's and eight times larger than Russia's. The US military advantage is even larger, other than in strategic nuclear forces. Russia's nuclear forces are still a formidable threat. So, combining Russian nuclear forces and military production, Russia's energy wealth, China's technological infrastructure, China's economic surplus, and China's population surplus--you have a powerful alliance to make war or mischief.

Neither China nor Russia want to trigger war with the US, at a time when the US enjoys many strategic and tactical advantages. But if the two nations can chip away at the US--both directly and using proxies--the balance of power can shift. The KGB developed the art of sponsoring terrorism and instability in the name of international revolution, throughout most of the 20th century. Always, the US stood in the way of truly massive gains in Soviet influence.

Now, with the election of Obama, Russia and a Taiwan-hungry China see a golden opportunity to expand their influence. Obama has pledged to reduce the US military force, to shrink the "American Empire." Obama intends to perform a radical reduction on the US nuclear forces, and to shift most defensive spending to domestic re-distributive purposes such as mandated socialised health care.

The new US President almost certainly has the best of intentions for the future of America and the American people. He is simply far out of his depth when faced with such powerful and unscrupulous opponents as the leaders of Communist China and Putin's Russia.

Now--while all eyes are turned toward the international financial crisis and the impending inauguration of a thoroughly green and weak US President--is the time for the Axis of Instability to act across the globe. These partners in destabilisation do not need to trust each other very far. Each understands quite well what motivates the other--power and hegemony. Until now, the US has been the greatest obstacle. With the election of Obama, the obstacle appears surmountable.

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24 November 2008

Bomb Shelter Living, Real and Metaphorical

These days, when someone talks about their bomb shelter you can never be quite sure whether they are speaking metaphorically, or realistically. People who have lost significant amounts of their life savings at the hands of Ivy League Wall Street Wizards may be stunned enough to start looking for fallout shelters.

One community in Switzerland is turning their once-obligatory fallout shelter into a hotel.
Each Swiss community has a nuclear bomb shelter for its residents, built during the days of the Cold War.

With the threat of nuclear confrontation gone with the collapse of communism, the bunkers are viewed by most Swiss towns as nothing more than a deep hole on the municipal budget.

"The town asked us to convert the bunker and we decided to launch the zero star concept," said Frank.

The only condition the town placed on the twin brothers was that they make it available within 24 hours in case of an emergency. _AFP
Cute. The "Zero Star" concept, as in "ground zero" hotel, zero out of five stars. They claim the beds are comfortable, and guarantee a quiet night's sleep--Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad willing, of course.

Utah Shelters is one company in Utah that still builds and sells fallout shelters to the general public. Mormons are well known for promoting the storage of food and water for extended emergencies, and the concept of emergency shelter fits well with the "preparedness theme." Interested parties can contact them at www.disastershelters.net.

These days, most buyers of emergency shelters are probably concerned about economic or climatic catastrophe, rather than all-out nuclear war. The current contraction in the financial industry is apt to lead to at least short-term contraction in the larger economy. But unless Obama does what he promised to do, the US and world economies should find their way back. Of course, if Obama does go after the private sector the way he has hinted, promised, and "beat-around-the-bush", the economic downturn may get much harsher and last many multiples of time longer than necessary--like the 1930s depression under FDR. We hope not.

Unfortunately, at this point Obama brings nothing but uncertainty and inexperience, both of which can be murder on the plans of investors, startups, venture capitalists, and potential lenders.


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Obama Depression: More Speculation

Most of us, of course, think we know what a depression looks like. Open a history book and the images will be familiar: mobs at banks and lines at soup kitchens, stockbrokers in suits selling apples on the street, families piled with all their belongings into jalopies. Families scrimp on coffee and flour and sugar, rinsing off tinfoil to reuse it and re-mending their pants and dresses. A desperate government mobilizes legions of the unemployed to build bridges and airports, to blaze trails in national forests, to put on traveling plays and paint social-realist murals....Today, however, whatever a depression would look like, that's not it. _BostonGlobe
The economic future of the US and the world depends very much on whether Obama fulfills his many promises--raise taxes on the "rich," institute a stern limitation on US industry for carbon dioxide output, bail out prodigal--and non-viable as presently structured--unionised industries such as automakers, move government even more aggressively into private sectors of the economy (such as healthcare, housing, income re-distribution etc). If Obama does what he promised, the US and world economies will be extremely stressed for decades to come, with minimal chance for a true recovery until Obamonomics is repealed. What will it be like? Here are a few mainstream speculations:
In a deep and sustained downturn, home prices would likely sink further and not rise, dimming the appeal of homeownership, a large part of suburbia's draw. Renting an apartment - perhaps in a city, where commuting costs are lower - might be more tempting. And although city crime might increase, the sense of safety that attracted city-dwellers to the suburbs might suffer, too, in a downturn. Many suburban areas have already seen upticks in crime in recent years, which would only get worse as tax-poor towns spent less money on policing and public services.

....even longer waits at ERs, which are even now overtaxed in many places, and a growing financial drain on hospitals that already struggle to pay for the care they give uninsured people. And if, as is likely, this coincided with cuts in money for hospitals coming from cash-strapped state and local governments, there's a very real possibility that many hospitals would have to close, only further increasing the burden on those that remain open.

....Students unable to afford private universities would opt for public universities, students unable to afford four-year colleges would opt for community colleges, and students unable to afford community college wouldn't go at all. With fewer applicants, admissions standards would drop, with spots that once would have been filled by more qualified, poorer students going instead to wealthier applicants who before would not have made the cut. Some universities would simply shrink.

...Depression, unsurprisingly, is higher in economically distressed households; so is domestic violence. Suicide rates go up in tough times, marriage rates and birthrates go down. And while divorce rates usually rise in recessions, they dropped during the Great Depression, in part because unhappy couples found they simply couldn't afford separation. _
Just as many venerable financial institutions have recently failed, been bought out, merged, or been bailed out, so will many long-lived institutions such as hospitals, universities, retail chains, charitable organisations, and non-profits find themselves unable to continue. In their place will spring up large numbers of start-ups in the white, gray, and black markets.

Illegal bootleg activity will skyrocket. At the same time distribution gangs (think Crips and Bloods on steroids), gang warfare (as under prohibition), and extortion rackets will bloom.

You will begin to see the type of urban environment that Robert D. Kaplan has been describing in Africa and Central Asia for well over a decade. Obama has promised to create an America that the rest of the world can respect and imitate. Instead what we may be seeing is an America that imitates the worst of what the rest of the world has suffered from all along.

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Obama: Sad Clown Caricature of "Leadership"

Without leverage, the clever folk around Barack Obama are fleas without a dog. None of them invented anything, introduced an important new product, opened a new market, or did anything that reached into the lives of ordinary people. They wore expensive cufflinks, read balance sheets, exercised regularly, sat on philanthropic boards, and assumed that their flea's ride on the Reagan dog would last forever. _AsiaTimes
Watching Barak Obama in press conference is an exercise in amused and tolerant disgust. With every attempt to answer a question, Obama's lack of depth and absence of solidity become clearer.

The American voter, it seems, cannot distinguish between persons of depth and experience, and persons who only look good giving prepared speeches to adoring crowds. Obama has no substance, and it is beginning to show.

The size of national and international problems that Obama will have to address is staggering. Never has it been so important for the leader of the world hegemon to be prepared for anything, than at the present. And then the dupes elect Obama. Buckle up!
Failed financiers run the Obama transition team. It used to be that the heads of great industrial companies got the top Cabinet posts. Now it is the one-trick wizards....For a quarter of a century, the inbred products of the Ivy League puppy mills have known nothing but a rising trend in asset prices. About the origin of this trend, they were incurious....Now that the stock market has collapsed, the private equity strategies cannot repay their debt, and their returns have evaporated.

All they knew was leverage, and now that the world is de-levering, they are trying to put leverage back into the system. _AT
Obama is all about political leverage, in the same way that his pre-failed cabinet picks are all about economic and financial leverage. Getting something for nothing. It seems like magic. Until the magic is gone.

Again--buckle up!

Bonus Update: From Freakonomics, this interesting look at the inner workings of the minds of Obama voters when pressed to think of their lives taking an extreme downward turn. Notice that only one respondent--Adam Shephard--appears to have even half a clue about the reality of what an Obama depression would be like. Unfortunately for all of these quasi-intellectuals, should the real thing impact their lives, there is nothing in their inner fantasy lives that will prepare them for the loss and/or severe degradation of social and financial networks. Even Mr. Shephard underestimates the difficulty of undergoing a life of hardship when accompanied by a hundred million other downfallen souls. Not for the purposes of writing a book this time, Adam. The resources that are presently abundantly available in US communities to help those down on their luck, will be strained beyond breaking after Obama's dilettantes have meddled the private sector to death.

Special note for Obama voters: A bit of remedial instruction for reading blogs: text that is indented, italicized, or otherwise conspicuously set off from unmodified text is typically a "blockquote." You may not understand that blockquotes are blocks of text excerpted from another source. Links to the source material are typically placed following one or more blockquotes. If only one blockquote is sourced, it means that all quotes come from the one source. Otherwise, difference sources will be linked as necessary. Non Obama voters understand how these things go, but in these days of dumbed down schools clarification is often needed.

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23 November 2008

Inflatable Wing Version of Flying Car

Take a careful look at the basic design of the Parajet "flying car." Only minor modifications would be necessary to allow the vehicle to skim across the surface of a lake, river, or snowfield. The rear propeller design already serves for all manner of craft, such as airboats, hovercraft, and ultralight flying craft.
In fly mode, the the Skycar will take off at 35 mph from any airstrip longer than 650 feet. It will hit a top speed of 68 mph and a cruising altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 feet and a max altitude of 15,000 feet -- though we don't know who's be brave enough to venture so high, given that hypoxia and altitude sickness become an issue at 10,000 feet if you aren't in a pressurized cabin. Range is 185 miles.

Flip the car to drive mode, which takes three minutes, and you're looking at a rear-wheel-drive vehicle the company says will do zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds and top out at 100 mph. _Wired
More versatile wing technology should accompany advances in nanotech materials engineering. We already have "paper" that is stronger than steel (in some dimensions). It becomes easy to imagine an inflatable wing made of nano-materials that is stronger than current wing designs--while being adaptable to changing flight conditions.The above Milner Motors AirCar is another candidate for the first reliable, affordable, flying car. The AirCar design is imaginative and photogenic, but no one knows how reliable it will be or whether it can live up to its ambitious flight specs. But notice the duel rear fan thruster design, which could potentially be adapted to other modes of transport for the same vehicle.

A time may come when you will want to make a quick getaway without being stuck behind miles of stalled freeway traffic. Imagine the sense of freedom, to be able to fly to the bugout location of your chapter of the Society for Creative Apocalyptology©, high above the madding crowds.

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When Nation-States Fail

We are in the middle of the failure and bailout of financial institutions in the US, Europe and China. There are the contemplated bailouts of the auto industry, of the State of California, and no doubt more states and industries. The country of Iceland itself is in the market for a bailout, and Iceland is not alone. What will it mean for nation-states to fail, and who will bail them out?

What we are seeing is the slow motion failure of nation-states from the third world, to the BRIC nations, and even in the developed world as in Iceland, England and France.
Entrenched corruption -- think government employees unused to financial deprivation not getting paid except by graft. An inability to govern territory and a general loss of legitimacy. A global swiss cheese effect from Mexico to Pakistan, where thousands of small holes in the global security system appear with rapidity.

A rapid increase in the number and power of criminal guerilla groups that will challenge nation-states. These groups will flourish within the ungoverned spaces that emerge, particularly in urban areas and even within the U.S. The combination of access to global markets, rapidly improving technology, and new methods of warfare mean that these groups will be ascendant militarily until successful strategies emerge to counter them.

Worst of all, these criminal guerrilla groups (collectively known as global guerrillas) will be able to generate wealth via transnational criminal networks and control political services to local populations (through both disruption and parasitically draining national infrastructures), gaining legitimacy that nation-states will not be able to provide. This means that these groups will not only emerge quickly, they will grow stronger over time. _Wired
These are warnings that Robert D. Kaplan and others have been sounding for decades. The death of the nation state from an inner corruption eating away at its heart and nerve centers. The emergence of competing organisations of a military and para-military nature capable of creating "no-go" zones where the local and national law enforcement agencies do not dare to go.

Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia ... But where US assistance helped Iraq and Colombia shrink their "no-go" zones significantly and increase areas of civil order, many nations of Europe and parts of North America themselves are becoming quasi no-go zones. The emergence and growth of religious terror cells in Europe, Canada, and Virginia, along with criminal gangs for illegal drug smuggling and distribution, spell insurrection for the first world.

As US cities perpetuate "Sanctuary Zones" for the importation and unchecked proliferation of criminal gangs, the incoming administration of the narcissist-elect promises to close the off-shore prison for terrorists in order to bring them to US soil for civil trials. The chaotic US Mexican border should be well defensed and guarded, but instead the Border Patrol is defanged and demoralised, and the construction of even a minimal border wall is stalled.

Parts of the US have had higher murder rates than Iraq virtually throughout the worst of the Baath-Sunni-Sadrist terrorism and insurrection. Under a more permissive and corruption/illegal immigration-friendly US regime, expect things to become much worse. California is asking for a federal bail-out, naturally. Michigan and New York may be next in line.

Unfortunately, the type of bailout that the current inept Congress and the narcissist-elect have in mind, will only make things steadily worse. Financial failure breeds failure of cohesiveness in a multi-ethnic nation state. Things fall apart and the central powers cannot hold, after disruptive forces reach a certain point.

Do not fail to make contingency plans.

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22 November 2008

A Community of Survivors: Competence in Groups

Ever since Adam Smith, economists have understood that division of labour allows for greater community productivity, thus greater prosperity. But if each person only learns one specialised skill, he is in trouble if something happens to the organisation (merger, buyout, bankruptcy, etc) he was trained to fit so well. Like a biological species evolved to too narrow a niche, once the niche is gone the species dies out. Modern westerners are in a similarly precarious position, living in societies of interdependent affluence that could be too easily disrupted by too many different stressors.

Billions of individuals live in the dysfunctional third world under hardship conditions not imaginable by most young westerners. Either no electricity at all, or only an hour or two a day. No reliable clean water or hot water. Undependable food supplies. Subject to crime and all manner of indignity--often perpetrated by "police" or other authorities, or persons essentially above the law.

If you think the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was bad, perhaps you should take another look at how things are every day in much of the third world. Most westerners simply could not cope--they would not know where to start. Third worlders generally accept the unpredictability of their existence, the need to improvise and be resourceful. They develop backup networks of suppliers for essential needs, to deal with the caprice of daily life.

In modern North American cities, food supplies on hand will typically last for only a few days. If electricity is lost, frozen foods will be lost, further reducing reserves of food supplies. If the city is not likely to be re-supplied soon, civil disorder is quite likely to break out--depending on the particular city and how cohesive its community may be when under stress.

Most North American cities are at least somewhat self-sufficient, for short periods of time. As long as power and fuel are supplied, water distribution should continue, and heating, cooling, cleaning, and cooking are supported. Hospitals can maintain operating rooms, emergency rooms, intensive care units--with power, personnel, and supplies. Schools can teach as long as they have power, teachers, students, and basic supplies. Most businesses can operate as long as they have power, personnel, computing/networking, supplies, and reliable currency transfer. And so on.

The problem cities would be those where most doctors, nurses, police, firemen, teachers, administrators, skilled workers etc. live outside the city and commute in to work. Particularly the cities where the more successful someone is, the farther outside the city they will likely choose to live. Such cities should probably be avoided by persons who are beginning to keep one eye on the "civil disorder potentiometer."

Some cities are relatively functional--even under stress--and other cities are badly dysfunctional even at their best. New Orleans was an example of a very dysfunctional city--long before Hurricane Katrina came to call. You will no doubt be able to think of other dysfunctional cities that you may want to avoid when the civil disorder potentiometer begins to peg.

Likewise, communities smaller than cities can be quite functional--containing mostly high energy multi-skilled, multi-competent persons. Such communities that are able and willing to learn how to survive severe stresses that the modern world may soon be subject to, will not happen by themselves, without planning or prodding.
An emergency survival community is a group of people who help each other out in emergency situations. Your emergency survival community may be just your family members who live nearby, your neighbors, or even your entire town (if you live in a small town). Having a community is beneficial to everyone. Almost every member of a community can offer something that other members can't do on their own. It could be a skill no one else has learned, expensive equipment others can't afford, or even just as a labor resource to make the work lighter. Humans evolved because of our social skills, and those same skills can help us all survive. _Source
Basic community cohesion, complementary skills, and general helpfulness is something that every community should strive for. But the ability of a community to withstand severe stresses such as extended loss of power, clean water, food re-supply, and civil order enforcement in and from the outside world, goes far beyond basic community spirit. When members of a community begin seriously weighing the immediate survival of themselves and their families against the survival of other community members, community cohesion has already broken down. When considering survivable communities, think about how easily the cohesion of the particular community might break down under stress.

Survival-oriented groups or communities need to make advance plans for various types of disasters or upheavals, of varying durations. Here is an example of a short-term group plan for a limited disaster:
assemble personal survival kits for everyone

Each person should have a compact belt kit with them at all times. This kit should include a minimum number of items that will allow them to survive a disaster if caught away from their main source of supplies. Using this kit, it is assumed the individual will be actively attempting to reach a "known place," or is reasonably expecting others to come searching.

establish and conduct training courses in all basic skills

You should establish a training cirriculum and pursue it rigorously. Your knowledge is the only thing you have that cannot be lost, stolen, or broken. Learn to rely on what you know, rather than on what you have. I am currently looking into using a series of Boy Scout merit badge pamphlets as training material.

get all members "72-hr capable"

All group members should maintain *at least* 72 hours worth of basic supplies in their homes for each person who can be expected to be present in the house during an emergency. Basically, if you can inventory your house and say you have enough supplies on hand that you could do without going to a store for 72 hours, you are in good shape. These supplies should be stored in easily-relocatable containers such as footlockers or duffle bags. Ideally, these containers should be man-portable such as backpacks in the event a relocation is required and is limited to foot-travel. _Source
Reliable members of survival groups or communities need to be able to perform basic planning for short-term, medium-term, and longer-term disruptions in ordinary living conditions. The greater the number of members in a community who are unable or unwilling to plan for the unexpected, the less cohesion the community will have when the unthinkable happens.

There is a TEOTWAWKI disaster to suit all political and religious outlooks. There is no need to limit your community based upon politics, religion, or other superficial qualities. The most important qualifications for membership in a disaster-surviving community are competence and a minimum level of seriousness, reliability, and personal stability.

Begin planning for the small, local disasters--earthquakes, floods, severe storms... Then consider the possibility of more widespread problems accompanied by temporary breakdown of civil order. Once prepared for those more limited catastrophes, begin looking at larger scale calamities such as widespread disease outbreaks, severe long lasting economic disruptions, acts of insurrection, terrorism and overt warfare... Finally, consider the existential disasters--attacks by weapons of mass destruction, asteroid impact, ice age climate catastrophe, or other huge disasters that could make large portions of Earth's surface unlivable.

Different problem scales call for different scales of solution. The better your planning, and the more inclusive the skill set and resources of your community, the better your chances for surviving in good style.

Finding a stealthy "Galt's Gulch" or a stealth seastead or submarine to live out the disaster times may be difficult for most of us. But if you begin the process of building your community now--perhaps starting with family, friends, and a virtual community over the internet and working from there--by the time such a community is needed it may actually be half ready.

Survival Topics is an interesting site oriented toward wilderness survival in extremis. It is a treasure trove of survival information and links. Remember, just as the brain is the most important sexual organ, so is the mind the most important survival tool you can own. Train it well.

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21 November 2008

"Lay-On" Electrode Sheets: Neural Prosthetics

Brain electrodes that penetrate cortical tissue can quickly lose function due to scar tissue and "glommed on" bio-debris that collects over time and disrupts the electro-neural connection. If a longer-lasting direct-to-brain connection can be made using electrode sheets that merely "lay on" the surface of the cortex, then the less invasive approach would probably be the way to go.
Schalk and his colleagues studied epilepsy patients undergoing a procedure known as electrocorticography (ECoG), in which a flat array of electrodes is laid over an exposed section of cortex to record electrical activity. Normally, surgeons use this information to pinpoint the source of seizures and to map the location of specific brain functions, which must be avoided during surgery. The technique generates a better spatial resolution than electroencephalography (EEG), a noninvasive approach that records activity through the scalp. ECoG is now being explored for use in brain-computer interfaces. "There's a growing interest in use of ECoG signals because nothing penetrates into the brain, and that appeals to people more than penetrating electrodes," says Marc Schieber, a physician and scientist at the University of Rochester Medical School, who was not involved in the research.

... It's not yet clear that ECoG, which records extracellular electrical activity and thus averages information coming from different cells, will be able to provide the same accuracy as implanted electrodes, which record activity from single cells. "As far as limb control, I think it will be somewhat basic," says Andrew Schwartz, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh.

However, ECoG possesses some significant advantages. With implanted electrodes, the quality of the recorded signals degrades over time, and the stiff electrodes can sometimes move within the squishy brain, thus requiring recalibration of the system. ECoG devices are less sensitive to movement. And because they lie on the surface of the brain, they may be less susceptible to the immune reaction thought to impair implanted electrodes. "Surface electrodes are more likely to be fit for long-term use," says Schalk.

Miniaturized ECoG devices now under development may make this technology even more appealing. With the current procedure, a surgeon must remove a large piece of skull to insert the electrode array. But Justin Williams, a biological engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is developing a miniature ECoG device that could be fed through a small hole in the skull and then unfurl to cover a larger area of the cortical surface. Made of platinum wires embedded in a flexible polymer called polyimide, which is frequently used in electronics, the electrode array is flexible and sticks to the wet brain. That means it moves as the brain moves, capturing a better signal. "It acts like Saran wrap on a Jell-O mold," says Williams. _TechnologyReview
The problem is one of signal to noise, and resolution of complex signals. Penetrating electrodes are better than "lay-on" cortical electrode sheets (ECoG), which in turn are better than scalp electrodes (EEG). The ECoG approach when combined with advanced computational filters and "translators" may be the best approach for short-term to mid-term neural prosthesis research--until better penetrating electrodes are devised.

My preference for penetrating electrodes is using the individual's own neural stem cells to grow connections from an interfacing device fixed to the skull--actually functioning as a replacement for a small area of skull--which contains both living neural tissue and the electro-neural interfacing technology. Such a unit could be easily detached from the skull and serviced without involving major surgery.

For more on this general topic, see Brain Stimulant blog

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At NextBigFuture, Brian Wang discusses methods of converting low temperature waste heat into usable energy. One of the methods discussed is the Ener-G-Rotors (Schenectady, NY) rankine cycle approach which instead of using a turbine for energy recovery, uses a gerotor (internal gear motor) instead.
Ener-G-Rotors' technology is based on the Rankine cycle, in which heated fluid flowing through a tube heats a pressurized fluid in a second tube via a heat exchanger. The second tube is a closed loop; the so-called working fluid flowing through it (a refrigerant with a low boiling point, in the case of Ener-G-Rotors) vaporizes and travels into a larger space called an expander. There, as the name would imply, it expands, exerting a mechanical force that can be converted into electricity.

Instead of turning a turbine, the expanding vapor in Ener-G-Rotors' system turns the gerotor, which is really two concentric rotors. The inner rotor attaches to an axle, and the outer rotor is a kind of collar around it. The rotors have mismatched gear teeth, and when vapor passing between them forces them apart, the gears mesh, turning the rotor. _TechnologyReview
Anyone with the least exposure to fluid energy will recognise the internal gear pump/motor as relatively inexpensive, but far from frictionless, and not nearly as durable as a well maintained turbine. Ener-G-Rotors claims to have made their gerotor virtually "frictionless" and therefore extremely durable. If so, it would be a significant advancement in cost reduction for this type of heat recovery.


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The Obama Depression: How Low Can It Go?

US markets have been rapidly declining ever since it became likely that Barack Obama would be the next US President. Will widespread deflation of financial markets be converted into a genuine worldwide depression?
Should the current trends persist, living standards over a wide range of society are bound to decline precipitately. Unemployment, already at 6.5 per cent, could, who knows, zoom to Great-Depression proportions of 25 per cent or more. The United States of America would still remain the world’s mightiest power, but that would hardly be solace for a people drowned in joblessness and the turmoil of daily existence. _Telegraph
Under President Jimmy Carter, the US economy experienced stresses that triggered an intense national feeling of malaise. Under Obama, such malaise may grow deeper and more intense. The rest of the world will not escape.
the global financial system is going through a vicious process of deleveraging: financial institutions are reducing debt and raising capital, either directly from governments or from private sector sources. By desperately trying to rebuild their battered balance sheets and regain some semblance of investor confidence, banks and investment banks are not doing much lending. Indeed, the definition of deleveraging means reducing debt relative to assets. Assets, for banks, are loans. And these days pretty much everyone is deleveraging....That doesn't bode well for global growth prospects. _Time
Deflation: when the value of economic assets shrinks to almost nothing. When economic activity nosedives out of fear that any possible transaction will only mean more losses.
“For some time it has not been a question of whether we will see deflation but if it will be the benign kind, where lower commodity prices boost consumption, or a malign spiral of falling prices pushing up the value of debt,” said Julian Jessop, chief international economist at the consultancy Capital Economics. “Today’s figures all point to the malign variety.”

US figures showed 542,000 workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week, the highest number since the early 1990s recession and well above economists’ forecasts of 500,000. _FT
Unfortunately, the election of Barak Obama at this point in time is probably the worst thing that could have happened for the world economy. Economies hate uncertainty, and Obama brings economic uncertainty to new heights. If Obama does what he has promised he will do, you can count on an extended depression, as long as that of the 1930s lasted. If you recall, that particular depression did not end well.

Electing an unaccomplished cult figure as leader of the largest economy in the world at this point in time, can only be explained as an act of electoral "temper tantrum." Like musicians on the stage destroying expensive musical instruments in an act of orgiastic destructiveness, US voters committed an act of incalculable destruction "because we can." Sometimes people just like to watch things burn.

Obama could do something remarkable at this time, and stave off the growing depression. How? By retracting most of his campaign promises to destroy the coal industry, to destroy the private US medical sector, to institute massive redistribution schemes from productive sectors in the US to nonproductive sectors, and from productive countries of the world to nonproductive countries. To destroy the protections of the US Constitution from government oppression. Retract those catastrophic promises, Mr. Obama, and you may surprise a lot of cynics.

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20 November 2008

Following Zimbabwe Down

Americans look at images of Zimbabweans eating insects, secure in the knowledge that "it can't happen here." Widespread starvation is something that happens in Africa or Southeast Asia. The US government would never allow things to get so bad here--unless the US were controlled by a leadership as corrupt as Zimbabwe's.
Rebecca Chipika, a child of 9, prods a stick into a termite mound to draw out insects. She sweeps them into a bag for her family's evening meal.

These scenes from a food catastrophe are unfolding in Doma, a district of rural Zimbabwe where journalists rarely venture. It's a stronghold of President Robert Mugabe's party and his enforcers and informants are everywhere.

...Survival is the obsession.

Cell phones operate only sporadically. State radio has not been received since the district relay beacon broke down eight months ago.

Mhangura, a town of about 3,000 people, has had no running water for months. Power outages happen daily because of a lack of cash to maintain utilities. People walk about three miles to a dam to fill pails or gasoline cans.

Some of the scarce water is used to embalm the dead in wet sand, a centuries-old African tradition to preserve a body until family members gather for the burial.

"There's nothing here. People are dying of illness and hunger. Burial parties are going out every day," said Michael Zava, a trader in Mhangura.

The hospital that serves the district is closed, and so is its small morgue, so there's no way of telling how many are dying, Zava said. Children's hair is discoloring, a sign of malnutrition. Adults are wizened and dressed in rags — they have no cash for new clothes.

Zava said he has seen villagers plucking undigested corn kernels from cow dung to wash and eat. A slaughtered goat is eaten down to everything but hooves, bones and teeth. Crickets, cicadas and beetles also can make a meal. _Yahoo
The Republic of South Africa is on a similar trajectory, perhaps a decade or so behind Zimbabwe in its descent. Both Zimbabwe and South Africa were once booming and prosperous exceptions to a continent full of post-colonial hell. With a change in leadership in both countries came rising violence and discrimination against the market-dominant minorities that had created their booming economies. As oppression against productive members of society grew, prosperity declined, and infrastructure rotted close to collapse.

Similar decline occurred in Uganda under Idi Amin, when he forced his market-dominant minority populations out of the country. Indonesia almost made the same mistake recently.

Any government of a relatively prosperous nation needs to understand where the productivity and prosperity of the nation comes from. It does not come from the size of the government bureaucracy, from the size of the military, or from the amount of taxes collected. The country's prosperity comes from profits produced by market enterprises. Anything that reduces or chokes off market enterprise reduces prosperity.

Market dominant minorities exist in third world countries--and third world regions of first world countries--because the indigenous majorities in those countries and regions are unwilling or unable to generate enterprise as productive as that generated by the market dominant minority.

When a new leadership arises in a nation, it is tempting for the new leaders to consider impinging on the freedoms of productive groups--to increase taxes, prohibitions, and regulations far beyond what productive members consider tolerable. Whenever leaders consider such harsh measures, they should consider the examples of Zimbabwe and South Africa--nations that flogged and are flogging their productive classes out of their respective countries.

As the ongoing third worldification of the developed western world's populations continues, it would behoove governments of the west to maintain the somewhat libertarian freedoms of relative equality under the law that have allowed current levels of prosperity. If the bounds on western governments put in place by enlightened documents such as the US Constitution are loosened by populist demagogues such as those who have destroyed and are destroying much of the third world, the future of the west--and the US--may become a replay of the descent of Zimbabwe into hell.

H/T Carl Brannen

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19 November 2008

Incompetent Narcissists Think Highly of Selves

Today's teenagers and young adults are less competent but more confident than youth of previous generations. In a study published in the November issue of Psychological Science, San Diego State University's Jean Twenge and University of Georgia's W. Keith Campbell reveal the results of their analysis of over 30 years worth of data from the "Monitoring the Future" survey.
While today's teenagers seem to feel good about their futures, they actually do not report increased self-competence.

Slightly fewer recent students agree with "I feel I am a person of worth, on an equal plane with others," while more agree that "I do not have much to be proud of."

Twenge attributes this to the modern idea that self-liking does not necessarily relate to feelings of competence.

"Just as today's high school students are getting better grades for doing less work, students on average are more satisfied with themselves and expect better outcomes even though they don’t feel more competent," Twenge said. " American culture seems to be teaching young people to be overly confident." _SDSU
Decades of grade inflation, over-praising, and purposeful inflation of self-esteem at the expense of practical competence training have created entire generations of perpetually incompetent eternally adolescent man-children and woman-children--psychological neotenates.

A lot more dysfunction than just excessive praise for poor performance have been at work creating these "lost generations", of course. Absentee parents, government school indoctrination and purposeful dumbing down, treating of children as pampered pet poodles by large numbers of parents, segregation of children in age cohorts far away from real world responsibility or learning-exposure, absence of responsible male role models for large numbers of young men, etc. etc. Last but not least, is the lack of any meaningful rite of passage, or induction into a deep and meaningful cultural mythology, for modern generations. Nihilism may be the guiding light for most of the leftists who control the universities, media, and bureaucratic dead weight of the country, but nihilism is no way to run a sustainable culture for the long term.

It goes without saying that such confident and incompetent narcissists are a ready-made constituency for politicians such as narcissist-elect Barak Obama. Never having learned how to reason logically, and never having developed any sense of historical perspective for judging promises and claims, these lost child-adults can be easily swayed by popular media, peer pressure, and perceived authority figures such as pundits, professional journalists, and professors.

Once the human foundations of a democratic society degrade to this point, there is no assurance that it will ever find its way back to a point where most voters were self-made individuals with hard-won educations and livelihoods. Once the incompetent narcissists predominate and learn habits of dependency on government for every need, the way back is almost hopeless. Europe is learning this hard lesson at the same time it is being overrun by uneducated, untrainable third worlders from muslim areas of the world.

If Obama's government goes the way of Europe--dominated by labour unions and government linked special interests--it becomes less unthinkable to consider an actual breakup of the United States in the foreseeable future. If such a thing were to happen, it might be accompanied by a realignment of particular states with Mexico and others with Canada.

Unlikely? Yes. But never before has a country descended into an Idiocracy with such rapidity as the US is currently doing. It may take some time to learn how far Obama plans to take his revolution.


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18 November 2008

Love in a Time of Psychological Neoteny

Perpetual adolescents walking around in the bodies of adults. That is a fair description of today's twenty-something generation and beyond. What is the dating scene like for these child-men and child-women? Cold, bleak, and apt to last the rest of their lives . . .
The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas. “I’ve gone through phases in my life where I bounce between serial monogamy, Very Serious Relationships and extremely casual sex,” writes Megan Carpentier on Jezebel, a popular website for young women. “I’ve slept next to guys on the first date, had sex on the first date, allowed no more than a cheek kiss, dispensed with the date-concept altogether after kissing the guy on the way to his car, fucked a couple of close friends and, more rarely, slept with a guy I didn’t care if I ever saw again.” Okay, wonders the ordinary guy with only middling psychic powers, which is it tonight?

In fact, young men face a bewildering multiplicity of female expectations and desire. Some women are comfortable asking, “What’s your name again?” when they look across the pillow in the morning. But plenty of others are looking for Mr. Darcy.

....“Women seemingly have decided that they want it all (and deserve it, too),” Kevin from Ann Arbor writes. “They want to compete equally, and have the privileges of their mother’s generation. They want the executive position, AND the ability to stay home with children and come back into the workplace at or beyond the position at which they left. They want the bad boy and the metrosexual.”

...The main reason that young educated adults are increasingly marrying in their late twenties and thirties is that women are pursuing education and careers, but ironically, the delay works to men’s advantage. Once they get past their awkward late teens and early twenties, men begin to lose their metaphorical baby fat. They’re making more money, the pool of available women has grown, and they have more confidence. “I could get a woman now, but when I’m 30 or 35 I could do better,” Bryson, an otherwise nice-guy 24-year-old from D.C., tells me.

...Forty years after they threw off the feminine mystique, women continue to prefer bigger, stronger, richer men, at least as husbands. They almost always marry men who are taller than they are, men who are several years older than they are (though the age difference has declined in recent decades), and men who earn more than they do (though that number, too, has declined a bit). Most of the women interviewed by Jillian Straus say that they’re looking for a man who can be the primary breadwinner. A June 2008 New Scientist article reports on two studies that even suggest that women are biologically attracted to “jerks”; researchers speculate that narcissistic, risk-taking men had an evolutionary advantage. _CityJournal_via_Instapundit
It is largely about sex. But it is also about companionship, nesting, children, responsibility, and personal integrity. The latter items seem to have gotten lost in the post-modern shuffle.

Things are not likely to get any better, as the multi-year Obama depression sets in and deepens. Bad economic times tend to bring out the worst in large numbers of people--the people who set the cultural tone among them. Nothing that young women learn in their women's studies classes has prepared them for the bad economic times to come. In fact, modern feminism is a parasitic ideology bred for affluent times, to mooch off a thriving economy. When economic times go south, parasitic feminism becomes an obvious drain on the well-being of society, standing out like sore chancres.

Psychological neotenates are adults stuck in perpetual adolescent incompetence. When your breeding population is mired in such a state, while immersed in a totally clueless culture run by a pathological narcissist-elect, clearer-headed individuals had best spur themselves to make contingency plans.

Update: Blogger Dennis Mangan points to Roissy's treatment of the same article, "Love In The Time Of Game". Roissy presents a good example of the evolving male attitude that Hymowitz is writing about. If radical feminist culture has bred a dating world of terminal contradictions and miscues, the evolving male reaction to feminist dating chaos may be far more Darwinian than feminists--and even Hymowitz--are reckoning.

Of course, none of that does anything to guide humans closer to the next level. Those who are working on that particular problem will need to ignore the background noise as best they can.

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