31 August 2010

How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?

"If it's the end of the world, what do you buy? Canned foods, guns and the generators," said Keith Springer, president of Capital Financial Advisory Services. "There are a huge number of people who feel this is the end of the world." _WSJ
Investors seem to be investing for the coming doom-bama. Let's first look at the investments that are doing well. Then we will analyse the thinking behind the investing, and the wisdom of the thinking.
Amid the market tumult, a handful of stocks have seen their share prices ratchet up to record highs in recent weeks. And many of them are connected by a curious, if disconcerting, thread: Between them, they provide an investor with essentials for any respectable fallout shelter—makers of bottled water, canned goods, dehydrated broth, gas masks and auxiliary generators.

A portfolio of the 18 companies that reached their peaks in the past month would be up about 24% this year, compared with the broader market's 4.5% decline, a sign some investors may be taking the prospects of financial Armageddon more seriously than one might think.

..."This is a very unusual economic cycle we're going through—we haven't been through anything like it in any of our lifetimes, and we don't know how it's going to play out," says Dorsey Farr, partner at Atlanta-based investment advisory French Wolf & Farr. "We don't see where this economy is going, and some of the potential outcomes are frightening."

... _WSJ
So, 18 months under the Obama - Pelosi regime, and we are looking at the end of the world. You can't blame an investor for bidding up precious metals, guns, ammunition, and disaster preparedness supplies. Investing in "bunker portfolio investments" is fine as long as the monetary system is working. What if the system collapses when your portfolio is at its peak? How do you convert your stocks to useful tradegoods and survival supplies at that point?

But what does a person do when he sees the end of the world coming? You can get some idea at Preparedness Pro and at The Prepper E-Book. The basics: stockpile food, water, medicines, fuels for heating and power generation, beef up security, have fallback and bugout plans, etc....

But almost all of those preparedness and survival plans are the equivalent of holding one's breath and ducking underwater, to avoid a temporary danger. How long can you hold your breath before coming back up. And when you do come up, what are you likely to find?

Even if you have a perfect fallback plan to a defensible location where you will be able to grow ample food and have an ample supply of potable water, what happens if you have a type 1 diabetic in your family -- or someone equally dependent upon high-tech medicines or supplies? What happens if it's your bad luck to be located one county over from a would-be Alexander the Great, neo-conqueror of the collapsed lands? Or if you get caught between blood-thirsty rival gangs each seeking to expand their territory?

More likely, you will try to tough it out in the suburbs or in an urban apartment or townhouse. Perhaps you have stored enough supplies to get through a 1 month crisis. How many others in your city will have thought to do the same? It will get very bad in the cities under such conditions, and a lot of the things that can burn, will burn.

There is strength in numbers, as long as they are the right numbers. If you decide to hole up on a University Campus with professors and staff, you will be dead before you understand where you went wrong. Your cohorts in disaster need to be competent in the real world. That leaves out intellectuals, bureaucrats, and a huge number of other drags on the productive sector -- who have only been able to survive due to the astounding productivity of the private sector market economies (until the leeches succeeded in killing the private sectors).

You had better start planning, looking around, polishing your skills, and making connections with people who have complementary skills. People can only hold their breath for a short time, but if they are on board a nuclear powered submarine or a inside a nuclear powered underwater habitat, they will not have to hold their breath at all, metaphorically speaking.

Making good investment decisions -- investing to match the mood of the markets -- can help a person to build and conserve assets. But markets do break down from time to time, when put under too much stress. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

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30 August 2010

Peepholes Into a Coherent World: BrainWorks Series

To most of us, the brain is a "black box." It creates a seemingly coherent world with which we can interact, but we have only limited understanding how it does what it does. But when focal brain damage happens to persons, neurologists and neuroscientists can begin to see how the brain puts the pieces of the puzzle together to create the world.
It's here that people with visual agnosias come in handy. Behrmann had previously studied people with integrative agnosia, who have difficulty recognising and naming complex objects as a whole, and instead seem to pay unusual attention to their individual features. One person, for example, mistook a picture of a harmonica for a computer keyboard, presumably thinking the row of air-holes in the mouthpiece were computer keys (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, vol 29, p 19). Others have mistaken a picture of an octopus for a spider, and a pretzel for a snake.

In 2006, Behrmann put one of her patients, known as SM, through a series of experiments alongside people with normal vision. All were shown a set of three-dimensional objects on a screen, each made from two simple geometric shapes. Afterwards, the volunteers were shown a stream of these images, with a few new objects thrown in. Their task was to report whether or not they had seen the objects before.

While those with normal vision performed with nearly 100 per cent accuracy, SM made some intriguing mistakes. He knew he hadn't seen an object before if it contained a new part, but those that had the same parts in a different configuration confused him. About half the time he mistook these for the familiar objects (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, vol 32, p 1169).

To Behrmann, the results suggest that our brains normally construct objects from a series of smaller building blocks, which she calls our "visual vocabulary". To recall our concept of an object, she says, we form a mental map of the way these parts fit together. It was at this stage that SM failed. "He had a good representation of the parts, but understood little of how they were combined," Behrmann says. _NewScientist

Advanced brain imaging is helping neuroscientists to sort between the different the different varieties of visual agnosias. This helps us understand the different functional brain modules, and to learn where they are located.
Brain scans have revealed that people with visual form agnosia tend to have damage to the ventral (lower) part of the brain's visual area. People with optic ataxia, on the other hand, have damage to the dorsal (upper) part. This led to the idea that we have two streams of visual processing. The ventral pathway is necessary for perceiving or recognising an object, while the dorsal pathway deals with an object's physical location in our visual field and, if we need to perform an action on it, guides the movement of our bodies. For this reason, scientists often refer to the two processes as the perception-action, or the what-where, streams of visual processing.

...In fact, the closer neuroscientists look, the more modular our visual systems appear. MRI scans of people with and without agnosias have suggested that within the ventral stream, separate aspects of appearance are processed independently. This year, psychologist Cristiana Cavina-Pratesi at Durham University in the UK found that shape, texture and colour are all processed in individual regions (Cerebral Cortex, DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhp298).

Yet our experience feels markedly different. When we consciously see something, all these disparate elements are stitched seamlessly together, so we know instantly that an apple is smooth, green and round. The question of how we accomplish this is central to the study of conscious perception.

...So important is the role vision plays in most people's everyday lives that most research has concentrated on visual agnosias. Now the hunt is on for similar disorders that affect the other senses. Recently, for example, neurologists found a person who could understand speech but not other sounds. Coslett, meanwhile, is investigating whether simultanagnosics also have trouble binding other sensory sensations together, such as sights and sounds.

Now you see it...

There are many visual disorders, typically caused by damage to specific parts of the brain.
  • Simultanagnosia - Seeing only one object at a time, even when viewing a scene comprising many items
  • Integrative agnosia - Inability to recognise whole objects, tending to focus instead on individual features of an object
  • Visual form agnosia - Inability to describe the shape, size or orientation of objects, yet exhibiting no problem in manipulating them
  • Optic ataxia - Ability to report the shape and size of an object, though attempts to manipulate it are clumsy
  • Prosopagnosia - Failure to recognise the faces of familiar people
  • Pure alexia (aka agnosia for words) - Inability to identify individual characters or read text, even though subjects are sometimes able to write
  • Agnosia for scenes - Inability to recognise known landmarks or scenes
  • Colour agnosia - Ability to perceive colours without being able to identify, name or group them according to similarity
We have discussed the binding problem before, but it is important to begin to zero in on the parts of the brain which are involved in binding different aspects of reality together into a "coherent whole."

It is also important to begin to learn the actual dynamic mechanisms which are responsible for creating the actual "sensation of consciousness." Or, "The Feeling of What Happens," as Antonio Damasio expresses it.

It is only by delving deeply into these processes that we will be able to conceptualise ways in which we may profitably reverse-engineer a human brain. But that will mean letting go of the "algorithmic theory of conscious intelligence" which has waylaid so many well-meaning artificial intelligence researchers in the past.

Scientific American has a short piece on a parallel topic

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29 August 2010

Growing Awareness of Solar System's Population Density

The image above looks only at the inner solar system. If you expand the view to include the outer system and the huge cloud and belt of comets and asteroids extending far out from the planetary orbits, you may begin to appreciate some of the material resources of this one solar system.

There is a huge amount of valuable real estate swirling around our solar system, waiting to be claimed by bold explorers and prospectors. Who will be the ones to lay claim to the richness of the asteroids, the outer system, the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud? Who are the brave adventurers and explorers, and who are the good-for-nothing incompetent couch potatoes?

Created by British astronomer Scott Manley, the three-minute clip – which is the equivalent of two months per second – starts with a sprinkling of white ‘dust’ around the edge of the planets....The footage shows the discovery of every new asteroid over the past three decades and charts it on an increasingly congested map of the solar system.

Over the years, and as more telescopes are added to the experiment and detection methods improve, this becomes a dense green ‘ring’ as the number of ‘minor planets’ found in the asteroid belt increases. _ImpactLab_from_DailyMail

Humans are faced with many challenges -- challenges both true and fabricated. Many of these "earth-shaking" challenges can only be taken seriously if humans are to be stuck on this one planet for the next thousand years, restricted to using technologies of the past and confined by nonsensical rules based upon phantom fears such as carbon hysteria.

If, on the other hand, we unleash the human imagination and human resourcefulness, we will begin to discover resources far beyond our ability to exploit for tens of thousands of years.


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27 August 2010

The Limits of Intelligence; The Farce of Artificial Intelligence

The only working model of human-level intelligence, as far as we know, is the human brain. We have no evidence of any higher form of intelligence anywhere in the universe. Yet scientists from widely varied areas of cognitive studies continue to make unlikely claims that they will achieve reverse-engineering of the human brain within 10 or 20 years. The problem with humans attempting to use machines to emulate intelligence, is that humans do not understand intelligence very well at all.

Recent progress in "memristor synapses" has given reverse-engineers of the brain hope, that they may finally be developing a hardware substrate that is better capable of emulating brain function. But even if that is true, how close do these developments place us to the goal of reverse-engineering a functioning human brain? Bluntly put, not close at all.

Scientists are slowly gaining an appreciation for how human memories are encoded -- within and by the hippocampus. For example, new memory formation requires the hippocampus to be able to produce new nerve cells of various types from stem cells. Some neuroscientists apparently feel that this understanding will help them to discover new "drug targets" for treating memory dysfunction, such as dementia. We should hope so, because dementia and brain atrophy of one form or another waits for virtually all of us -- if we live long enough.

But successful treatment of dementia does not help us to understand how our intelligence works -- except insofar as it provides tools for further research into the intricate mechanisms of human learning, memory, and creative imagination.

The encoding and decoding of human memories (more) has virtually nothing in common with what is generally thought of as "computation." Consequently the substrate of ordinary computation -- such as digital computers -- should not be seen as likely substrates for reverse engineering a human brain.

Human intelligence evolved over millions of years by natural selection, in the course of solving a variety of problems of survival. Human brains are not well evolved to solve the most pressing problems currently facing human societies. The average IQ for human populations is just below 90 points, and on a downward, dysgenic trajectory. Most humans are simply not intelligent enough to solve complex problems -- except those for which the human brain is evolved to solve. Most of the "big" problems of today do not fall within that category.

Even most humans with IQs in the 130 to 180 ++ range are generally not well suited to understand the basis for their own intelligence on any logical level -- much less most or all of them. If the potential to understand our own intelligence rests within the developing embryo and infant child, its critical window of development inevitably passes without the proper training. And so it goes, almost certainly, for a significant number of potential human abilities -- lost out of ignorance. But I digress.

Artificial intelligence research suffers from the lack of individuals with a special combination of trained aptitudes. Brilliant researchers abound in the disparate disciplines of computer science, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, electrical engineering, and a wide array of creative, inventive, and speculative arts and sciences. But workers with the right combinations of skills and attitudes are extremely rare. The potential accomplishments of the uni-disciplinary approach to higher education evaporate very quickly when it comes to solving the extremely hard problems with which we are faced.

Solving the problem will require a different way of thinking about the problem. But that is a virtual impossibility for most people -- no matter how "intelligent."

Contemplate what may be involved in the efficient teaching and learning of "lateral thinking." The most rewarding known examples of lateral thinking occurred by accident. But de Bono claims to be able to teach the skill. It is virtually certain that such teaching is more effective if initiated during childhood -- and more effective in some children than in others.

Modern human knowledge is "full of holes", like a Sierpinski gasket. No matter how conscientiously we set about to fill in the holes, we only create more holes. Humans need to learn to relish this creation of holes, because the more holes we create, the more we have filled in. But the development of such a relishing of the fractal world of knowledge must likely begin in childhood.

Which brings us back to the creation and upbringing of children, their training and the societal milieu in which they are to be raised. We are botching the job rather badly at this time.

More on these topics later.

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26 August 2010

Robots in Cardiovascular Surgery: Guest Article by Susan White

Robots in Cardiovascular Surgery

They’re man’s inventions modeled on himself, and needless to say, they’ve made great strides in almost every field that uses technology. First introduced in factory production lines where automation held the key to improving productivity and efficiency, today, robots have moved on to doing tasks that require brainwork as well thanks to artificial intelligence. However, it was not until a few decades ago that these mechanical wonders were allowed to be used in the field of surgery. And because cardiac surgery is one of the most complicated medical procedures there is, it was only in the 1990s that robots were built and tested for use in the OR.

The benefits of using robots to perform cardiovascular surgeries are many, not just for the patient but for the surgical team too:

The surgery is minimally invasive – there are smaller cuts and openings which in turn translate into less pain, less scarring and a faster recovery period for the patient. Instead of a surgical cut, a small incision is made and an endoscope provides a magnified view of the surgical area using a video camera, using which surgeons perform the operation.

Robots remove the tendency for human errors by eliminating tremor which could cause surgeons to make mistakes when they are overworked or tired.

They provide easy access to body parts that are hard to get to and they allow surgeons to work from various angles and easily manipulate tissue.

They magnify the surgical area so that tiny body parts can be worked on easily and also provide a three-dimensional view which in turn eases the task of the surgical team.

The smaller instruments make it easy to work with children whose body parts are tiny and more fragile.

Robots allow what is called as motion scaling, a technique which allows surgeons to move their hands a certain distance and have it translated into a much smaller distance at the actual surgical site – it’s virtual reduction of movement and it helps when the surgery requires great precision and accuracy.

The camera is voice-activated so surgeons don’t have to free their hands to turn them to the right angle.

The first robot to find a place in the cardiac surgery room was Computer Motion’s AESOP in 1995. It allowed surgeons to repair and replace narrowing or leaking cardiac valves using tiny incisions. It is also being used for work deep within the heart like closing fistulas between coronary arteries and the cardiac chambers.

The da Vinci system and ZEUS were both introduced in 2000 to perform complete robotic heart surgery; both reduce the recovery time for patients by eliminating the need for surgeons to open up the chest through the sternum, a practice that was followed for open heart surgery. Clinical trials have established the safety of these robots in the OR, and it is safe to say that we can expect more complicated machines to assist surgeons in performing cardiac surgeries in the years to come.

This article is contributed by Susan White, who regularly writes on the subject of surgical technician schools. She invites your questions, comments at her email address: susan.white33@gmail.com.

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Big Government, Big Education, Big Unemployment, No Skills

Modern westerners have grown complacent and sheep-like in the face of governments that have inserted themselves into every aspect of their lives. This "government-uber-alles" is not working out well.

Consider the shortage of "skilled workers":
Workers with specialized skills like electricians, carpenters and welders are in critically short supply in many large economies, a shortfall that marks another obstacle to the global economic recovery, a research paper by Manpower Inc (NYSE:MAN - News) concludes.

"It becomes a real choke-point in future economic growth," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said. "We believe strongly this is really an issue in the labor market." _finance.yahoo
Governmental emphasis on college attendance may be turning universities into huge, opulent drop-out factories. Trying to force everyone into college -- whether suited for higher education or not -- is a good recipe for destroying young lives by teaching them to think of themselves as failures.

Meanwhile, university administrations have become bloated with bureaucrats and functionaries, driving the costs of higher education inexorably upward.
...the Obama Administration’s priorities is to funnel more money into higher education–which will reinforce exactly the sorts of pressures that Greene highlights. Higher education almost perfectly converts subsidies (whether direct or aid to students) into higher prices. With no real reason to expect that those subsidies will be used to promote better substantive outputs instead of internal agency costs. _Volokh
Businesses are reluctant to hire new employees in a highly uncertain economic climate. Meanwhile, tenured and unionised government workers -- such as teachers -- are becoming the new privileged classes, relentlessly sucking the blood out of a shriveling private sector which is headed toward critical care life support.
Government defaults are inevitable, in large part due to ballooning pensions, wages, and benefits to unionised government workers.

Under Obama - Pelosi, US governments are doing everything wrong from top to bottom. Sucking the productive and taxpaying segment of the country dry, the O-P regime is laying the groundwork for perpetual economic shortages for the indefinite future (example).

When governments insert themselves into every activity of every productive member of their society, inefficiencies and disruptions in the economy abound. When the voting public cannot tell the difference between politicians who will only dig the statist hole more deeply, and those who aim to take government controls away from the greater parts of society where government was never meant to be involved -- at that point society becomes an Idiocracy.

More: Here is a fascinating glimpse of the nature of government as it is evolving under Obama Pelosi

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25 August 2010

Homeschooling Becoming Just Another Option

The increase in homeschooled students, has given rise to two major things: more educational resources for homeschoolers and more support for their parents.

Several publishers, museums, parks and communities are capitalizing on the need for homeschooling curricula and programs. And parent-formed support groups that provide social interaction and opportunities for shared learning for homeschooled children are sprouting up in diverse communities. _ImpactLab
Homeschooling in the US has doubled over the past 10 years, with well over 2 million active homeschooling families. The resources to assist a parent to provide quality schooling to children have never been more widely available or of such high quality. And an ever-larger number of institutions of higher learning are catching on to the fact that homeschooled students are often among the best applicants available.
Back-to-school time for Heidi Pair of Milford means enrolling her two children in online classes, scheduling 4-H meetings, karate classes and Lego League, picking out math curricula and planning field trips. Pair, 40, is a homeschooler -- one of an estimated 2.3 million in the U.S., a number that has doubled during the last 10 years, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.

With a sea of available resources and a ballooning network of supporters, homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.

...A report in the summer 2010 edition of the Journal of College Admission showed that homeschooled students had higher ACT scores, GPAs and graduation rates when compared with traditionally educated peers.

Cotter said that it might be because of the homeschooling mastery philosophy -- with time and autonomy, students can keep at a subject or topic until they fully grasp it.

Although most of the past homeschool applicants have typically used a religious curriculum, Cotter said, the recent applicant pool of homeschoolers is split between religious and secular backgrounds.

...Pair said her kids are constantly around other children of all ages, from different backgrounds. They also are often out taking field trips and classes in the community.

"Teachers often work to create activities that teach kids about life," Pair said. "Homeschoolers do the same -- it is just easier for us because our kids are already in the real world observing adults in real-life situations. It is fairly easy to add in classroom experiences and test deadlines." _FreeP _via_ImpactLab

Government education is becoming a high priced ticket to perpetual failure for more and more attendees. While unionised teachers go on strike for ever higher wages, benefits and pensions -- which threaten to bankrupt municipalities, counties, and states -- students are at the mercy of a system which cares more for its own size and political clout than for the future of the children entrusted to it.

For parents who are working from home or fortunate enough to not have to go away from home every day to work, the options available for homeschooling in the internet age are making the process much easier, and not so very expensive. For parents who go that route, at least they have an excellent idea what their kids are being taught and how they spend their time during the day. Opportunities for building close family ties in such a situation are much more frequent. And if you want to teach your children practical competencies which you suspect will stand them in good stead -- but which government schools are not teaching these days -- teaching them at home would offer a good opportunity.

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If the Power Grid Were to Die Tomorrow

The trailer above is from the film "One Hundred Mornings." It follows two couples hunkered down by a lake in Ireland, while society is falling apart around them -- and supplies are running out.
What would you do if the electric grid went dead tomorrow? If grocery stores shut down because trucks no longer had gas to make food deliveries? Self-sufficiency and food security are popular topics...

...And now, a film called "One Hundred Mornings" takes a look at the kind of life we might have in a post-petroleum scenario, when society breaks down and people have to quickly learn to fend for themselves.

This film isn’t a doom-and-gloom documentary like "Crude Impact", nor an overly dramatized action thriller like "The Day After Tomorrow". Instead, "One Hundred Mornings" focuses on two couples hiding out at a lakeside cabin in Ireland, 10 weeks after all the lights have gone out. In addition to the stress of dwindling supplies and social unrest enter both a self-sufficient hippie neighbor and suspicions of infidelity!

The first screenings will happen in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent Theatre starting Sept. 16, after which the film will travel to Northern California for the San Francisco Irish Film Festival, happening Sept. 23-25. _mnn

If anyone were to film an accurate portrayal of what were to happen during a long-term collapse of the power grid and fuel supplies, they would not be allowed to show it in theatres. A graphic, realistic portrayal of how quickly civilised human society can degenerate into a lawless battleground of immediate appetites and primal fears, would not appeal to anyone except the morbid -- who enjoy watching the "death films," where people actually die.

The film discussed above deals with a society crashing when petroleum supplies run short, but there are dozens of ways that the power grid could be brought to its knees for a prolonged period of time. Very few communities are prepared for such an event. Individual families and groups of families could survive in the midst of such unprepared communities, but they would need to keep a low profile, and turn a blind eye to what their neighbors were enduring. How many can do that? Much easier if you can find a remote cabin, far away from the breakdown of polite society, and wait for things to settle out.

If you are a physician, a fireman, a policeman, an EMS worker, etc., could you do that? Could you turn your back and walk away, if your family were at risk?

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24 August 2010

More on Gever Tulley's Tinkering School

Gever Tulley uses engaging photos and footage to demonstrate the valuable lessons kids learn at his Tinkering School. When given tools, materials and guidance, these young imaginations run wild and creative problem-solving takes over to build unique boats, bridges and even a rollercoaster!

About Gever Tulley

The founder of the Tinkering School, Gever Tulley likes to build things with kids. _SimoleonSense

Childhood is all about learning how to live a life of ever present danger. Any child who grows to adulthood without learning such lessons is a lifelong burden to everyone around him.

Don't forget The Dangerous Book for Boys

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23 August 2010

Bringing Up Children Who Can Deal With Risk

Things children should be encouraged to do:
1. Play with fire
2. Own a pocket knife
3. Throw a spear
4. Deconstruct appliances
5. Break the DMCA
6. Drive a car
_Gever Tulley_quoted in openeducation.net
Tulley's TED Talk:

Modern society makes a fetish of safety and security. We can see many examples of how the compulsion for security is destroying the economies of western societies -- take public sector union pensions and benefits as an example of the unsustainability of hyper risk-aversion in adults. Tenure for public school teachers and college professors (higher education bubble) are other examples of the destructiveness and counter-productiveness of excessive clinging to security.

Raising children according to the risk-aversive mindset of modern western societies, is to raise children who will feel more comfortable staying home with their parents, rather than going out and making a life for himself. Such children are taught to be afraid of everything around them, and learn risk-aversion from their parents, teachers, and society at large.

But children must learn to take risks, because they are growing up in a world full of risk. They must learn to deal with hazards safely while still children, or they will turn to excessive risks such as drugs, drinking and driving, etc. or turn to excessive caution as a permanent attitude.

Training generations of children who are afraid to take risks, creates a huge risk all in itself. A risk-averse society will focus intently upon minimal and pseudo-risks which are close at hand, while ignoring much greater risks which may be developing just out of sight (or mind). The combination of risk aversion with political correctness multiplies the genuine risk by orders of magnitude -- because people are forbidden to discuss very real risks -- which are officially said not to exist, by the PC police.

And so after a few generations of risk averse children are raised to be afraid of their own shadows, but blind to real risks, your society is ripe for the fall. Most modern western children may very well fall within this category by now.

If so, wise persons will want to know where children are still being raised to take responsibility and to rationally deal with risks. Just in case they may someday wish to re-locate themselves to a place with a more robust and less unstable societal infrastructure.

Becoming a risk-taker

Tinkering School

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Children Do

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Advances in Regenerative Medicine

The promise of regenerative medicine involves a future where replacement organs and tissues can be re-grown in a lab from a person's own cells, then transplanted into the person as brand-new, fully functioning replacement tissue. Replacement lung tissue, replacement heart tissue, replacement ligaments and tendons, replacement skin, kidneys, muscle, intestine, bladders, and on and on. But first, scientists have to find a good way to grow millions and billions of healthy stem cells from a person's own cells, and keep them alive long enough to turn them into the proper tissue, and grow them on a proper scaffold into the proper replacement organs.
Investigators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently developed a new type of support structure for stem cells, which allows them to remain alive for weeks without using any foreign genetic material.

Generally, substrates for growing stem cells contain animal cells or tissue, but these can easily contaminate the samples themselves, which means that they can lose some of their capabilities.

This is an especially serious consequence for induced pluripotent stem cells, which are biological units that can transform into any type of tissue in the human body.

Only environmental conditions dictate whether they will turn into nerve cells, or into pancreatic tissue.

Due to this amazing differentiation ability they have, these cells hold great promise for treating a number of disorders, such as for example Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.

But, in order to make the best of them, researchers need to be able to grow them in sufficiently large quantities, and this is proving to be extremely difficult due to the lack of proper substrates.

One of the main issues in this field of research is the fact that human stem cells are now grown with the aid of cells or proteins derived from mice embryos. If these foreign chemicals would interact with the human body, they would definitely cause an allergic reaction.

Thanks to the MIT collaborations, which includes biologists, materials engineers and chemists, scientists now have a synthetic surface that features no material from mice or other animals.

The data the team recorded of the new surfaces show that they promote and sustain “all-natural” stem cell growth and reproduction for at least three months. Longer periods are also possible, the group says.

Another impressive feat the MIT experts achieved with their new material is the fact that it allows for researchers to separate colonies of identical cells from each other. The surface allows single cells to form colonies of cells of that type with considerable ease.

Details of the new investigation appear in the August 22 issue of the esteemed scientific publication Nature Materials, e! Science News reports. _Softpedia
Another report from ScienceDaily

“For therapeutics, you need millions and millions of cells. If we can make it easier for the cells to divide and grow, that will really help to get the number of cells you need to do all of the disease studies that people are excited about,' says MIT postdoctoral associate Krishanu Saha, one of the co-first authors of the paper. 

The work was led by MIT professors Robert Langer, Rudolf Jaenisch and Daniel G. Anderson, in collaboration with Saha and postdoctoral researcher Ying Mei. _Softpedia

This report from Brian Wang on Swiss stem cell research, suggests that mature tissue-derived stem cells can be programmed across germ layer boundaries. This finding hints at the possibility of creating virtually any type of cell or tissue from any other type of tissue -- including easily sampled tissues such as skin or blood.

More: Australian researchers at UNSW have developed a process of inducing pluripotent stem cells, iPS, without the use of viruses or "genetic manipulation". Their aim is to generate brain cells to study and treat degenerative brain diseases.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Longevity


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22 August 2010

Wind Turbines Blow

Most people wonder how much power a wind turbine can produce, and never stop to wonder how much power a wind turbine requires to operate. Mechanical engineer Jerry Graf believes that it is long past time for people to ask that question:
Big turbines often incorporate rechargeable batteries or ultracapacitors to power their own electrical systems. When those get depleted, the power must come from the grid. This power goes into running equipment such as yaw mechanisms that keep the blades turned into the wind; blade-pitch controls that meter the spinning rotor; aircraft lights and data-collection electronics; oil heaters, pumps, and coolers for the multi-ton gearbox; and hydraulic brakes for locking blades down in high winds.

Turbines in northern climes also need blade heaters to prevent icing. Reports I’ve seen say these heaters can consume up to 20% of a turbine’s rated power output. Many big turbines also need dehumidifiers and heaters in their nacelles. And until recently, large turbines employed doubly-fed induction generators that bleed power from the grid to create their magnetic fields. (It should be said, though, that designs now on the drawing boards use permanent magnets instead.)

Instances of low or no wind pose another problem. Large turbines may need to use their generators as motors to help get the blades turning. And some wind skeptics have posed a question about the direct-drive turbines now emerging from the labs: Large ships frequently must expend energy to slowly turn their heavy driveshafts when at port to prevent them from sagging. Could the same be said of these superlarge wind turbines?

Wind-farm operators don’t say much about turbine-power demands. Typically, turbine-power consumption is one of the factors that gets lumped into a wind-farm’s operation and maintenance costs. I’ve never found either a wind-farm operator or a wind-turbine maker willing to discuss these costs. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say the wind industry treats such information as a state secret. _MachineDesign
There are too many aspects to the operation of big wind farms which are treated as state secrets. No wonder the O-P reich promotes wind power so heavily. Politicians are no doubt attracted to the "all image and no substance" aspects of big wind power.

More bad news about big wind

...Jeffry Michel, an MIT engineering graduate living in Germany, once informed me that the average capacity factor in Germany is about 21%. In other words, if 1000 kilowatt hours of (electric) electricity from a windmill are theoretically available during a year, the average (or better the expected) amount accessed during the same time period would only be 210 kilowatt hours. A year or so ago one of the leading energy/environmental bureaucrats in Sweden calculated that with a capacity factor of 25%, four (4) windmills with a capacity of e.g. 1000 kilowatts could replace a nuclear installation of 1000 kilowatts with a capacity factor of 100%, and as a result, with existing (construction and variable) costs, the windmills were a better economic prospect. Bizarre calculations of this nature were probably responsible for making (and keeping) Sweden one of the poorest countries in Europe until the Second World War....
Adapted from an earlier Al Fin Energy posting


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Beyond Kurzweil and Myers: A Useful Brain Emulation Viewpoint

George Dvorsky provides a measured and reasonable approach to the question of machines emulating the human brain in this well written article on "making brains". While quite short and lightly documented, Dvorsky's piece provides a useful outline of the problem, and a fairly sound description of a good approach for attacking the problem.
While I believe that reverse engineering the human brain is the right approach, I admit that it's not going to be easy. Nor is it going to be quick. This will be a multi-disciplinary endeavor that will require decades of data collection and the use of technologies that don't exist yet. And importantly, success won't come about all at once. This will be an incremental process in which individual developments will provide the foundation for overcoming the next conceptual hurdle.

But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start with a plan...The idea of reverse engineering the human brain makes sense to me. Unlike the rules-based approach, WBE works off a tried-and-true working model; we're not having to re-invent the wheel. Natural selection, through excruciatingly tedious trial-and-error, was able to create the human brain—and all without a preconceived design. There's no reason to believe that we can't figure out how this was done; if the brain could come about through autonomous processes, then it can most certainly come about through the diligent work of intelligent researchers.

...A number of critics point out that we'll never emulate a human brain on account of the chaos and complexity inherent in such a system. On this point I'll disagree. As Bostrom and Sandberg have pointed out, we will not need to understand the whole system in order to emulate it. What's required is a functional understanding of all necessary low-level information about the brain and knowledge of the local update rules that change brain states from moment to moment. What is meant by low-level at this point is an open question, but it likely won't involve a molecule-by-molecule understanding of cognition. _SentientDevelopments
Dvorsky goes on to describe the type of multi-disciplinary approach he has in mind, and bravely makes a prediction as to how long the effort will likely take: 50 to 75 years. This is a much longer timespan than Kurzweil and most AI researchers are giving, but I suspect it is closer to a realistic mark.

There are a couple of small criticisms I have to make. Dvorsky expects a workable brain emulation to be built within a "digital substrate":
.... if you believe that there's something inherently physical about intelligence that can't be translated into the digital realm, you've got your work cut out for you to explain what that is exactly—keeping in mind that any informational process is computational, including those brought about by chemical reactions. Moreover, intelligence, which is what we're after here, is something that's intrinsically non-physical to begin with.
Here, it seems that Dvorsky has it backwards. It is the persons who believe that intelligence can be made to work in a different physical substrate than the brain who bear the burden of proof to show that intelligence can be "transferred" to the "digital realm." We only have one proof of concept of intelligence up until now, which is a bloody ball of fat resting on a stalk rising between the shoulders of homo sapiens.

In another place Dvorsky asserts:
... the brain contains masterful arrays of redundancy; it's not as complicated as we currently think.
In truth, the brain is far more complicated than we can currently imagine. The question should be: Is the relevant functionality within the brain/mind which generates consciousness and intelligence, perhaps "not as complicated as we currently think?" Al Fin cognitive theorists believe that such a thing is possible, as long as we take care not to stumble amongst the numerous overlapping logical levels which present themselves whenever attempting to deal with this problem.

Dvorsky is quite right that the brain emulation problem is going to require extensive multi-disciplinary effort. We will need multi-disciplinary teams, as well as team members who themselves have multi-disciplinary training.

The great online debate between Ray Kurzweil and PZ Myers continues unabated, but it has very little to do with the eventual creation of a machine intelligence modeled after the brain.

If I had to choose one or the other to lead an effort to create an artificial brain, I would choose Kurzweil, hands down. Myers is an academic on the "intellectual" side -- an intellectual being someone who is rarely challenged by reality when he makes a mistake. Kurzweil's inventions and products have to work. That puts Kurzweil firmly in the reality-based camp, regardless of how many in the media and academia call him a kook.

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21 August 2010

As Nations Collapse, City-States Provide Centers of Stability

The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built. This new world is not -- and will not be -- one global village, so much as a network of different ones. _FP
As national governments grow larger and more unwieldy, corruption and dysfunction become the new normal. Huge, clumsy new government agencies prove easier to form than to dismantle. Unionised government workers and power-hungry bureaucratic king-pins refuse to relinquish power or benefits, until huge national governments become the harsh taskmasters of an increasingly dissatisfied populace. The situation grows more unstable until it can no longer sustain itself. At that point, regional islands of stability form focal points for new organisation.
...we have to look back nearly a thousand years, to the medieval age in which cities such as Cairo and Hangzhou were the centers of global gravity, expanding their influence confidently outward in a borderless world. When Marco Polo set forth from Venice along the emergent Silk Road, he extolled the virtues not of empires, but of the cities that made them great. He admired the vineyards of Kashgar and the material abundance of Xi'an, and even foretold -- correctly -- that no one would believe his account of Chengdu's merchant wealth. It's worth remembering that only in Europe were the Middle Ages dark -- they were the apogee of Arab, Muslim, and Chinese glory. _FP

Accelerating this shift toward new regional centers of gravity are port cities and entrepôts such as Dubai, the Venices of the 21st century: "free zones" where products are efficiently re-exported without the hassles of government red tape. Dubai's recent real-estate overreach notwithstanding, emerging city-states along the Persian Gulf are investing at breakneck speed in efficient downtown business districts, offering fast service and tax incentives to relocate. _FP

...the advent of global hubs and megacities forces us to rethink whether state sovereignty or economic might is the new prerequisite for participating in global diplomacy. The answer is of course both, but while sovereignty is eroding and shifting, cities are now competing for global influence alongside states. _FP
The author of the FP piece linked above envisions the rise of the city alongside the continuing power of the nation-state. But conventional contemporary thinkers too often lack the historical perspective which allows the concept of the "rise and fall" of nations to become a tangible reality inside themselves and in their writings.

A large number of nations in Africa and Asia are teetering on the brink of Yugoslavia-style dissolution. Whether illogically slapped-together by imperial conquerors without regard to tribe, language, culture, or religion -- or simply having outgrown whatever bounds held them together up intil now -- these booby-trap nations sit waiting for the right trigger to explode and dissolve in smoke and flames.

Larger nations which are intimately involved with these "booby-trap" nations stand to be hurt badly when the IED-nations explode. A chain reaction of exploding and collapsing states could easily result -- particularly when dysfunctional governments intentionally place their nations in extreme risk via unwise policies of debt and demography.

Things fall apart, yes. But they also put themselves together, afterward. Consider how the pieces may choose to re-organise.

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20 August 2010

Neither Ray Kurzweil nor PZ Myers Understand the Brain

Irrepressible bio-blogger PZ Myers has attacked futurist inventor and author Ray Kurzweil on his blog, accusing Mr. Kurzweil of failing to understand the human brain. But it seems that Mr. Myers was unwittingly attacking second-hand accounts of a talk given by Kurzweil, rather than responding to Mr. Kurzweil's actual claims. Kurzweil takes Myers to the woodshed for that mistake.

Other prominent tech- and mind-bloggers such as Brian Wang and George Dvorsky have reacted to this tiff, appropriately pointing readers to Mr. Kurzweil's actual words on the topic.

Lost in all the ballyhoo is the obvious fact that in reality, neither Kurzweil nor Myers understand very much about the brain. But is that clear fact of mutual brain ignorance relevant to the underlying issue -- Kurzweil's claim that science will be able to "reverse-engineer" the human brain within 20 years? In other words, Ray Kurzweil expects humans to build a brain-functional machine in the next 2 decades based largely upon concepts learned from studying how brains/minds think.

Clearly Kurzweil is not claiming that he will be able to understand human brains down to the most intricate detail, nor is he claiming that his new machine brain will emulate the brain down to its cell signaling proteins, receptors, gene expression, and organelles. Myers seems to become a bit bogged down in the details of his own objections to his misconceptions of what Kurzweil is claiming, and loses the thread of his argument -- which can be summed up by Myers' claim that Kurzweil is a "kook."

But Kurzweil's amazing body of thought and invention testifies to the fact that Kurzweil is probably no more a kook than any other genius inventor/visionary. Calling someone a "kook" is apparently considered clever in the intellectual circles which Mr. Myers' and the commenters on his blog travel, but in the thinking world such accusations provide too little information to be of much use.

Clearly if Mr. Kurzweil understood the brain, he could simply sit down and design an artificial brain based upon the principles which he already understands. The fact that Kurzweil places the development of such a human-level thinking machine 2 decades in the future, suggests that Kurzweil himself is not attempting to disguise his lack of comprehensive understanding of the brain.

I should point out that it is neuroscientist Henry Markram who is attempting to reverse-engineer a human brain to incredibly exquisite levels of biological detail -- in an attempt to study the function and potential pathologies of the brain. Kurzweil is not taking that path of reverse-engineering, but is rather attempting to extract principles of higher level mental functioning from the study of the brain. These "higher level mental functions" may appear to be quite low-level to a lay-person, but to a neurobiologist they will seem quite high-level indeed.

Life scientists do not understand life, really. Take this interesting Spiegel Online interview with Craig Venter on the genome. You would think that if anyone would understand the genome, it would be Craig Venter. But no, he admits that he does not -- not nearly to the extent that he intends to, at least. That is why he goes to work every day, because he understands just enough to want to understand more.

So while PZ Myers apparently fell off the wavelength upon which Ray Kurzweil was transmitting, that is no reason why the rest of us cannot follow Kurzweil's progress in his quest -- as food for thought.

Full Disclosure: Al Fin has in the past criticised Ray Kurzweil's approach to artificial intelligence as being insufficiently nuanced -- based upon Kurzweil's own writings. But a man with Mr. Kurzweil's track record of accomplishments is not one who should be written off. Such a person has been wrong innumerable times in his past, and has come back to correct his mistakes and move far beyond them. Every person of high achievement must go through such a process of being wrong and learning from it. It is one of the disgraces of modern education, culture, and child-raising that "being wrong" or "failing" at something, is considered to be an object of shame or disgrace. Far from being disgraceful, it is a necessary part of living and learning.

It is the dogmatist who is unwilling or unable to learn from his mistakes who should be avoided. The person who is unwilling to put in the necessary hard work to correct his own faulty assumptions and innate prejudices, is the person who will achieve little in the end. Except, perhaps, for calling everyone who disagrees with him a kook.

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Controlling Microbial Genes: Beyond Synthetic Biology

While other gene-expression techniques need to be engineered for a particular gene, Collins says, the RNA-based switch "can be used to control any gene of interest." Other switches rely on proteins to regulate gene expression. But the use of proteins requires several steps, which means they're not as fast to make as the RNA switches. _TR
Kill switch: From top left to bottom right, these images show bacteria dying over the course of a few minutes. Researchers flip a genetic switch that causes the bacteria to make proteins that cause them to burst.
Credit: PNAS

Scientists at Boston University have developed the ability to control the activity of any microbial gene -- reducing or even stopping any gene's protein synthesis activity.
...researchers at Boston University, led by biomedical engineering professor James Collins, have developed a highly tunable genetic "switch" that offers a greater degree of control over microbes. It makes it possible to stop the production of a protein and restart it again. The switch, which could be used to control any gene, can also act as a "dimmer switch" to finely tune how much protein a microbe would produce over time.

The researchers made a highly effective microbe "kill switch" to demonstrate the precision of the approach. For years, researchers have been trying to develop these self-destruction mechanisms to allay concerns that genetically engineered microbes might prove impossible to eradicate once they've outlived their usefulness. But previous kill switches haven't offered tight enough control to pass governmental regulatory muster because it was difficult to make it turn on in all the cells in a population at the same time.

...Collins's switch, described online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, turns a modified gene on and off. The switch is created by sequences of DNA that can be added to any gene that a bioengineer wants to regulate. When the cell takes the first step toward expressing that gene--making an intermediate molecule of RNA that can be "read" to make the relevant protein--it also creates the RNA switch. When the first, "off" RNA switch is made, it latches onto the ribosome, preventing it from making a particular protein. When the second, "on" switch is made, it pulls the first RNA switch off of the ribosome and binds to it the switch, freeing the ribosome to resume production.\

Depending on how they're designed, production of the RNA switches can be regulated by exposing the bacteria to a particular chemical. By controlling how much of the "on" and "off" RNAs are made, it's also possible to regulate protein production over a continuum, not just turn it totally on or off.

...Such a kill switch could be useful in microbes designed to, for example, break down environmental toxins. Once the microbes have cleaned up a toxin, "you could spray the area with an innocent compound that triggers cells to expire on command," says Collins. The kill switch could also be coupled to other synthetic biology tools such as genetic clocks in order to design bacteria that live for a given number of days.

These switches make it possible "to do the kinds of things people like me struggle to do," says Robertson. One of the main challenges for a company like Joule, he says, is complying with regulations about environmental containment of genetically modified organisms, and Collins's switch could help.

Collins is currently working to combine the switches to make what he calls tunable "switchboards." "We want to tune genes like a rheostat," he says. Such a switchboard might be used to control a population of cells so that they first put their energies toward growing their population. Then, when engineers deem it timely, they can administer chemical signals that cause the cells to gradually ramp up production of a fuel, for example. _TechnologyReview

By starting with a gene-packed bacterium, the scientists could conceivably "tune" the cell to behave just like a wide range of other bacterial species -- depending upon which genes were "switched on or off" at the time. The only thing missing would be a means to generate new controllable genes on the fly.

This type of development will actually be blended into the field of synthetic biology -- but it will extend the field significantly. Now, instead of simply designing new life forms which will behave as designed, synthetic biologists can design "programmable life forms" which can serve as flexible test beds for a wide range of genetic experiments.

The possibility for the transfer of such techniques to mammalian cells should be setting off warning klaxons among the dieoff.orgy lefty-Luddites from Berkeley to Manhattan to Brussels. And to think they're worried about genetically modified foods!


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Getting Serious About Your Survival Compound's Machines

When the infrastructure of society collapses, there will be no parts stores ready to ship your order by overnight FedEx or UPS. If you are serious about keeping your sophisticated machines running for perhaps a year or more without access to outside replacement parts, you will need a heavy duty -- although compact -- metal working facility. Here is a description of such a facility used by the military in the field, by special ops units.
U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has adopted an old U.S. Army concept to create mobile workshops (MTCs or Mobile Technology Complex) that can fix exotic gear (which SOCOM has a lot of), modify their special gear, or even create something new. The MTC is a modified (with new some gear) version of the decade old U.S. Army MPH (Mobile Parts Hospital).

The MPH was developed when the army realized that the easiest way to get the many rarely requested, but vital, replacement parts to the troops, was to manufacture the parts in the combat zone. In short order, this led to the construction of a portable parts fabrication system, called MPH, that fit into a standard 8x8x20 foot shipping container. _StrategyPage

Here is a description of such a unit made by Clegg Industries:
Three 8' x 8' x 20' custom designed facilities were built for the US Army to house a sophisticated, computer controlled manufacturing facility meeting stringent size, weight, and operational constraints; self - contained, air (C-130), ground (PLS/trailer) or rail transportable, easy to deploy and redeploy, controlled user friendly work environment.
Mobile Parts Hospital Special Features Include:

7-ton Mazak Lathe
Slide-out expandable room for extra work space
Two advanced computer CAD Workstations
High pressure independent high temperature air system
Leveling Jacks
Unique articulated flooring system
Unique heat diverter for desert operations
5 ton HVAC

Clegg Industries, Inc. Job # 233 _Clegg
Obviously there is much more equipment in the operating facility, but the description above gives you an idea of the basic platform for wartime. You will probably not require your mobile parts factory to be dropped in from a C-130, but if you expect your survival compound to run smoothly for up to a year or longer, you will need something at least as well equipped as what forward units of the military require.

This brings up an important human resource issue: You will want to be sure to have multiple persons in-compound who are skilled at various fabrication methods and machines -- including welding, milling, lathes, presses, etc. And you will want to stockpile your metal stock (and welding rods etc) in advance -- while you can shop for the best prices. You should also consider possible ways to refill your oxy-fuel tanks after depletion.

Long term survival is not just about food, water, medicines, shelter, fuel, power, trade goods, basic defense, livestock, etc. If you want to maintain the minimum of civilisation, you will need machines -- and the means to keep them operating efficiently. Parts, fluids, lubricants, fittings, adhesives, wiring, connectors, tubing, backups, piping, hoses, etc etc etc. It is not possible to think too deeply or broadly about what a survival compound or community may need.


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19 August 2010

Russia Goes Darker; China Tries for the Light

A sign of a growing tyranny in Putin's Russia is the re-furbishment of the KGB, as the FSB. As Putin's government grows less popular with larger parts of the populace, it is reconstituting the instruments of oppression which terrorised the people of the USSR so effectively.
The new powers give the FSB more authority to do whatever they want, just like in their good old days (when the communists were in charge). The FSB is believed to directly control over 100,000 personnel, and have authority over many more in other government departments (like the national police force).

...What bothers many Russians is the ultimate purpose of the FSB. The KGB was known as the main protector of the Communist Party. The FSB is seen as the supporter of wealthy criminals who used their KGB connections and powers after the Soviet Union collapsed, to grab ownership of many state owned assets. The current Russian government is acting more and more like the autocratic rulers Russia has suffered under for centuries. The FSB seems to act like the palace guard, not public servants. _StrategyPage

Meanwhile in China, talk of a strong move to democracy is coming from high levels in the Chinese military.
Chinese Lieutenant General Yazhou Liu has been giving speeches to his fellow officers in which he insists that China must embrace democracy, or perish. Liu recently got promoted, and his speeches and published articles continue. What is going on here?
Liu has been pushing his ideas for nearly a decade. Five years ago, he was ordered to shut up. So his public presentation of these seemingly heretical ideas ceased. But Liu kept talking to military and government officials in private. Now he has been allowed to go public again.

...Liu's backing of democracy is purely practical, and really has nothing to do with political beliefs. He describes American democracy as a system designed by a genius for effective use by stupid people. As Liu puts it, ''a bad system makes a good person behave badly while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most important reform for China, for without it there can be no sustainable growth.''

...Liu points out that communists can compete in a democratic environment, especially since Chinese communists have abandoned the most destructive aspects of traditional communist doctrine (state control of the economy). But growing corruption, especially among communist officials, is crippling China and threatens the economy, as well as continued communist control of the country. Better to compete in a democratic environment, and risk losing national power, than to proceed with the current system and risk everything. Liu is being listened to by a lot of senior officials, both military and government, who back clean government. But the "dirty communists" are opposed, and that is a formidable opponent for someone like Liu. _StrategyPage

Chinese insiders such as Liu are able to see the huge cracks in China's military, government, and economic facade which are largely hidden to outsiders -- particularly to outsiders who portray themselves as experts on investing in China, or who recommend a western subservience when engaging with China. (Think of Obama bowing to foreign leaders, including top Chinese officials.)

Russia's demographic situation is dire, and Russia's leaders are unwilling to open the nation sufficiently to give the people hope for the future -- so that Russian women will start having children again. Putin and his henchmen may have decided to strip the country to the bones for their own benefit, and to the utter misery of Russia's people.

China, on the other hand, has at least a few decades of demographic health ahead of it before its aging population collapses on itself. If China can open itself politically, economically, and socially, it could put itself in a strong position for most of the 21st century. The alternative is the destruction from within by corruption, autocracy, and inevitable rebellion.

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Pity the Fools Who Blindly Believe "The Science"

Direct Yearly Cost of Scientific Misconduct in the United States May Exceed $100 Million USD; Indirect Costs Likely to be Far Higher
It's a sad fact that scientific misconduct not only exists, but is rather common. From refusing to share original research data as agreed prior to publication, to technical medical editors who are indifferent to plagiarism, misconduct is swirling all around the scientific enterprise.

Scientific misconduct extends into active fraud as well. According to one study, over 14% of biomedical and clinical scientists have witnessed fraud, although less than 2% admit to having committed it themselves.

Such behavior affects more than the scientists directly involved. Other scientists may waste a lot of time and effort on research programs based on fraudulent results (think of all the scientists who tried to reproduce and build upon the research of physicist Jan Hendrik Schön on carbon-based electronics), and public health may be harmed if medical advice is based on false premises.

Scientific misconduct surely also costs a lot of money, both directly (e.g. investigative costs) and indirectly (e.g. lost grant money). Estimating the cost of scientific misconduct will underscore the necessity of efforts aimed at stamping it out early before it happens. _NASW_via_SimoleonSense

We are all drowning in a sea of information overload. It is impossible for anyone to master all of the new information in one's own field. How much harder it is to comprehend and properly integrate all of the new, significant findings which crucially affect us and everyone we know. And so, naturally, we and everyone else -- including scientists (and markets) -- become caught up in FLOOPS (feedback loops)__via_Gogerty_via_SimoleonSense.

Having once made the slightest commitment to a particular point of view or hypothesis, it becomes easier to integrate new information which supports that hypothesis. If we are not provided with honest data and feedback from the actual testing of the hypothesis against real world conditions, we are helpless to know what is likely to be true.
Global Warming Greatest Scientific Fraud?
... the total cost of scientific misconduct includes those which are either measurable, intangible, or random. To arrive at a conservative estimate, they focused their study on the measurable direct cost of a specific case of misconduct at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (the identity of the accused scientist(s) was not revealed).

An allegation of scientific misconduct was reported. This cost no money.

Next, an admininstrative review was undertaken. This cost $1000 USD.

Next, a formal inquiry was undertaken, during which a grant and email correspondence was reviewed. This cost $13,000 USD.

Next, laboratory equipment, notebooks, etc were confiscated, and physical and electronic data was duplicated to enable other scientists in the research group to continue with their work. This cost $10,000 USD.

After all this, the final investigation was conducted. The salaries of all those involved, related to their time spent in the investigation, totaled $514,500 USD.

Adding this all up, the sum direct cost of this case of scientific misconduct was between $500,000 and $550,000 USD. This does not include indirect costs, likely far exceeding the direct costs, including lost grant money, which came out to over $1 million USD.

When this direct cost is extrapolated to the 217 cases of scientific misconduct registered with the United States Office of Research Integrity, the estimated yearly direct cost of scientific misconduct in the United States comes out to be over $100 million USD._NASW
If the scientific misconduct in question leads to large-scale public policy spending and regulations, which lead to $trillions re-distributed, mis-spent, and lost as a result of scientific fraud and deception, it is easy to see that the sky is the limit in terms of lost resources and destroyed lives, livelihoods, and human futures. Ironic, given the prodigal use of the "precautionary principle" in the service of the ongoing scientific fraud of anthropogenic climate doom.

It is time for the people who are footing the bill to take their responsibilities of oversight seriously. At this time a relative handful of well-placed gatekeepers in government and private funding agencies and publications are given the power to decide what will be funded and what will be published -- and taken seriously by policy-makers and the public. This utterly top-down approach to the censorship of science has led to a situation of near-ubiquitous fraud and abuse -- especially in particular areas of science which have become politically enmeshed.

Are you mad as hell yet? Do you intend to keep taking it up the kazoo? The decision is entirely yours.

MORE: There is yet another developing scandal eroding all confidence in the climate orthodoxy, known as Satellite-Gate. Large problems with data integrity of US government climate satellites have been ignored for years -- problems which could introduce temperature errors of up to 10 to 15 degrees! Sloppiness and outright fraud in the ranks of climate science is apparently not uncommon. The ultimate cost to the world may well rise into the $trillions before these "scientists" and their enablers in government, academia, the media, and inter-governmental agencies are forced to give an account of their misdeeds.


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