31 December 2010

Choking on Affluence: Decline of Western Ambition

The difference in ambition can be seen clearly at airports, which now serve as the entry halls of the global economy. A traveler to John F. Kennedy Airport, Heathrow, Charles De Gualle LAX or Dulles passes through decayed remnants of fading late 20th century buildings and technology. In contrast, airports in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore offer clean, ultra-modern facilities with often impressive design.

The West’s retreat from space exploration further underscores its metaphysical poverty. Today, Europe and the U.S., the world’s historic leader in the field, are cutting back on plans to explore the cosmos, which has included a manned operation to the moon. President Obama wants NASA to focus more on issues regarding climate change instead. In contrast, the rising countries of Asia, notably China and India, have begun plans for manned flights to the moon and beyond. _JoelKotkin

The decline of the western world has been discussed since the days of Oswald Spengler in the first half of the 20th century. Under the new left leaders of Europe and the US, the decline has accelerated to alarming speeds.
Europe, particularly the U.K., suffers acutely from metaphysical angst. Once touted as the new great power by its leaders and their American claque, the E.U. is quickly dissolving along cultural and historical lines; this is especially evident in the division between the resilient countries of the north (something like the Hansa trading states of the late Middle Ages) and the weaker countries along the periphery. For the most part, Europe no longer seems capable of doing much more than finding ways to control an unaffordable welfare state without tearing about its social net. The once cherished notion of a multi-racial “new” Europe largely has dissolved as immigration has devolved from a source of demographic and cultural salvation to a widely perceived threat to the E.U.’s economic and social health as well as security.

Such defeatism usually has less success in the United States. But America’s “progressive” left increasingly resembles its European cousins. Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, has been a long-time advocate of the idea of “de-development,” the purposeful slowing of growth in advanced countries in order to protect the environment. The critical infrastructure needed to accommodate upward of another 100 million Americans — new dams in the west, intelligent development of our vast natural gas reserves and building new cities, airports and ports – are not at the center of either party’s platforms. These could be financed largely with private sources, given the right incentives. _JoelKotkin
The imminent bankruptcy of several European nations and US cities and states reveals just a hint of early collapse of western dysfunctionality. [As usual, public sector unions play a pivotal role.]

As the Obama administration and the EU progressively starve the US and Europe of reliable energy supplies, and choke off private economic initiative via ruionous taxes, regulations, penalties, etc. the underlying foundation of the nations and regions crumble.

The trend cannot be reversed, because its source is the lack of substance and realism -- along with a lack of ambition -- of the underlying human populations of Europe and the Anglosphere. Two of the most important reasons for the decline in human substrate are dysfunctional schooling and errant childraising. It is not just the children of the very wealthy who suffer from affluenza -- the "Paris Hilton" syndrome. Compared to most children of the world, almost all American and European children are affluent, with much idle time on their hands to be filled with dysfunctional thought patterns.

The emphasis is on "de-development" and on not giving any offense to those who would like to destroy western culture altogether. The ruling ethic of the modern west is not only dysfunctional, it is actively suicidal. And since all of these nations are "democracies," the human substrate actually elected the figureheads of the ruling classes.


Bookmark and Share

30 December 2010

Russia: The World's Largest Dying Empire

There are four main areas that made 2010 a record year for Russia’s degradation:

1. The country declined on the 2010 United Nations Human Development Index from 57th place five years ago to 65th place this year ....

2. The state has become more corrupt and criminalized......

3. The economy has become more state-controlled and ineffective....

4. Most Russians are overcome by cynicism and anger over their declining standard of living and the fact that the ruling elite abuse their power and continue to embezzle money and assets from the people and businesses with impunity. In short, Russians have lost all hope for the future under the current leadership. This is reflected in rising crime, xenophobia and violence.... _MoscowTimes
Russia can still build nuclear power plants and certain weapons systems -- both very much in demand both in the emerging world and in several oil states such as Venezuela and Iran. Even China -- which prides itself on the ability to steal technology from its trade partners and allies -- has found it difficult to duplicate some of the Russian systems.
Purchases of some items [from Russia] continued - S-300 air defense systems and billions of dollars worth of jet engines. An engine China made for its Su-27 knock-off would routinely conk out after 30 hours whereas the Russian engines would need refurbishing after 400, Russian and Chinese experts said.

"Engine systems are the heart disease of our whole military industry," a Chinese defense publication quoted Wang Tianmin, a military engine designer, as saying in its March issue. _WaPo
Even so, Russia's military is rotten and rotting from the inside out. The situation is not helped by Russia's demographic nightmare.
the main problem is that political and military leaders ignored a basic demographic reality that makes it impossible to draft 750,000 new conscripts a year even under the best recruitment efforts. There simply aren’t that many able 18-year-olds in the country. _LaRussophobe_quoting_MoscowTimes
Demographic shrinkage is also leaving Eastern Siberia open for Chinese takeover.
Moscow is also warily watching China's unauthorised movements into Siberia and the Far East.

Beijing is about six times closer to the port city of Vladivostok than is Moscow, which has very weak administrative control over its eastern territories.

Already, an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Chinese nationals have illegally settled in these oil, gas and timber-rich areas.

Beijing is also tempted by Siberia's freshwater supply, given that China already has severe shortages throughout the country.

The Russian Far East is inhabited by only six million people, while the three provinces in northeast China have about 110 million Chinese inhabitants. By 2020, more than 100 million Chinese will live less than 100km to the south of these Russian territories, whose population will then number between five million and 10 million.

As Medvedev recently admitted, if Russia does not secure its presence in the Far East, it could eventually "lose everything" to the Chinese. _RealClearWorld
Russia's people are demoralised by the increasingly totalitarian nature of Russian life. Putin's hands can be clearly seen controlling the puppet Medvedev from behind the barely closed curtains. The recent conviction of former Yukos chief Khodorkovsky on trumped up charges has not helped matters. Thousands of Russians recently rallied to demand Putin's resignation.
Ahead of the verdict, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the central Moscow courthouse.

Security officers, who maintained a heavy presence outside the building, whisked several people away while others stood in below-freezing temperatures chanting "Freedom" and "Russia without Putin" -- referring to the prime minister. _CNN
Russia has lost a large number of competent people via emigration to the west and to Israel. Between the emigrants and the competent people that Putin has jailed, it is a wonder that any production is achieved in Russia today.

But Russia is losing its population year by year, and allowing much of its remaining population to waste away via alcoholism, drugs, HIV, TB, suicide, and a generalised, nonspecific malaise which discourages family formation or thoughts of a positive future.

This is the hollow hulk which US President Obama continues to make concessions to and bow down before. In the end, Obama may be even worse for the US than Putin is for Russia.

To people of both Russia and the US: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.


Bookmark and Share

We Are All Israelis Now: Reframing the Right of Return

In what could change the whole picture of human evolution, archaeologists claim that modern man may have evolved in the West Asia, rather than Africa, after they discovered remains said to be 400,000 years old.

A team, led by Prof Avi Gopher and Dr Ran Barkai of the Tel Aviv University, has found eight human-like teeth in the Qesem cave near Rosh Ha’Ayin, 10 miles from Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.

The teeth were 400,000 years old, from the Middle Pleistocene Age, which would make them the earliest remains of homo sapiens yet discovered... _DeccaChronicle
The discovery of 400,000 year old teeth in Qesem Cave inside Israel, suggests that modern humans may have evolved in the middle east -- not in Africa as most anthropologists believe. This discovery can be added to a host of others which contradicts the common belief that all modern humans are descended from a branch of the human tree which evolved inside Africa.
Long before the land was called Israel and the residents Jews, Homo sapiens lived here twice as long ago as was previously believed, the researchers wrote in the latest (December) edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The cave was uncovered in 2000 by Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of TAU’s Institute of Archeology. Later, Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and an international team of scientists performed a morphological analysis on the teeth found in the cave.

The examination included CT scans and X-rays indicating the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the cave are also very similar to evidence of modern man dated to around 100,000 years ago that had previously been discovered in the Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel and the Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth.

The Qesem Cave is dated between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archeologists working there believe that the findings indicate significant changes in the behavior of ancient man. This period of time was crucial in the history of mankind from cultural and biological perspectives, and the fact that teeth of modern man were discovered indicates that these changes are apparently related to evolutionary changes taking place at that time, they maintained. _JPost

If these findings are confirmed, they will throw a monstrous monkey wrench into anthropological discussions. One of the reasons the "out of Africa" viewpoint has been made official dogma, is that it unifies all of the branches of modern humanity. This makes it possible for educated people to say with a straight face that there is no difference in average intelligence or developmental potential between different populations of humans -- even though the best of modern science demonstrates very real differences.

Science moves forward, even when powerful interests wish otherwise.


Bookmark and Share

29 December 2010

Contrary to Peak Oil Orthodoxy, Oil Industry Reacts to Prices

Khaled Al Buraik, executive director of the government-controlled Saudi Aramco, announced that new technology could add as much as 2 trillion barrels of oil to global proved reserves.
Although the current global oil reserves in place are estimated at 14 trillion barrels, only about 1.2 trillion can be recovered, said Khaled Al Buraik, executive director of the government-controlled Saudi Aramco.

Speaking at a seminar in Riyadh, Buraik said the quantity of oil extracted so far worldwide does not exceed one trillion barrels.

"Advanced technology in hydrocarbon production could add around two trillion barrels to the existing proven crude reserves in the near future," he said in his address, published by Saudi newspapers on Monday.

"The real challenge for scientists and engineers is how to access to nearly 11.8 trillion barrels to meet the growing world needs of hydrocarbon in the future...what is needed now is more effort by scientists and specialists in this field to invent new methods and very advanced technology." _Zawya

Higher oil prices are spurring oil companies to increase their spending for exploration and production.

Brazil's rich offshore reserves keep growing larger

Brazil announces ambitious new underwater technologies to provide easier access to its vast undersea oil wealth

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is a growing component of national energy budgets from Britain to Japan, as a compensatory move against higher oil prices.

A new and ambitious approach to increasing the value of cheap, abundant natural gas, is being advanced by San Francisco startup Siluria Technologies.
Siluria has decided not to go after gasoline or diesel but instead to produce ethylene, a building block for plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, beverage bottles, tires and lots of other materials that are now made from oil. Ethylene can also be turned into alkanes, a class of hydrocarbons that are a component of gasoline.

A more important difference, though, could be the energy needed for conversion from the natural hydrocarbon molecule, methane, to the synthetic one, ethylene. In Siluria’s process, using a new kind of catalyst, that conversion gives off heat instead of requiring it. _NYT
I will present more information on Siluria in the future.

As you can see, advancing technologies will bring about both new proved oil reserves and production, AND new substitutes for crude oil in both fuels and chemical uses. Gas to liquids and LNG are certain to achieve traction for significant scaleup within the next 2 years.

It will take about 20 years for advanced biofuels and small modular fission reactors to get approved, licensed, and scaled up to provide significant quantities of energy and fuels. In the meantime, unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas, oil sands, coal to liquids, and heavy oils will scale up to ease the transition. If needed, oil shales and methane clathrates can provide more hydrocarbon energy than all other resources put together.

Taken from an earlier posting at Al Fin Energy

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

28 December 2010

Debt, Power, and Revolution: In Media Res

Image Source

We are living in interesting times, and any attempt to predict exactly how our world dynamics will resolve is doomed to fail. Here are some things that are happening around the world.

The Western World

The western world is looking at massive and growing debt combined with an enormous demographic transition. That particular combination points to a coming of potentially cataclysmic change in the everyday existence of most of the region's residents.
...once the fatal spiral begins, how can a state escape disaster? There are only eight options: (1) higher taxes; (2) less spending; (3) more growth; (4) more lenient interest rates; (5) worse inflation; (6) war; (7) external aid; or (8) default. All eight options have been used in the past, but only one of them is both plausible and desirable today: growth. A growing economy (which raises tax revenue) permits the absorption of debt and restores sustainable public finances. Then borrowing can resume—if it will encourage further growth. Responsible governments do not finance their everyday expenses by borrowing, and they keep their investments at a level they can repay.

History offers one final lesson. The power of sovereign states can foster a sense of impunity that encourages excessive debt. In the past, sovereign states have sometimes rid themselves of creditors by simply driving them out (as they did repeatedly with Europe’s Jews), by tormenting them, or by simply refusing to pay. When modern states borrow from a range of anonymous investors on global markets, sovereign immunity protects their assets against seizure—China cannot seize the White House as collateral for U.S. Treasury debt. But creditors can still negotiate, even with sovereign debtors. When a state loses the market’s confidence, the threat of a financial cutoff is a jolt back to reality. Just ask Greece, as its leaders scramble to reduce its public deficit as quickly as possible. The West needs to wake up now, shake off the yoke of public debt, and take the path of liberty. That path is long and difficult. It means balancing budgets and stabilizing the financial sector. But the great reward will be a return to confidence and growth—for those who put in the effort, and for those with the audacity to see it through. _Newsweek


The recent second conviction of former Yukos head Khodorkovsky opens a window on what may be one of many potentially fatal dynamics at the core of Russian power.
the real meaning of the Khodorkovsky case is that the authorities are weak, and scared. If the first trial of Khodorkovsky was a kind of perverse victory for Putin over the once-powerful oligarchs, the second trial shows that the Kremlin is afraid of showing what it sees as weakness. More, the ham-handedness of the charges themselves, and the heavy police presence and mass arrests at the trial today, betrays a dangerous amateurishness. Totalitarianism is scary. Incompetent totalitarianism is actually scarier.

For evidence of just how totalitarian – and now incompetent – Russia’s authorities are, look no further than the desperately eloquent scene in the courtroom during the trial, day in, day out. On one side sat the state prosecutors in their 1980s-style uniforms, surrounded by stacks of paper bulging out of Victorian-style ledgers. They mumbled their evidence in a monotone. At several points in the trial their accusations were so absurd that even the judge burst into laughter (my favorite prosecution malapropism – “The defendant is doing an excellent impression of being a normal person.”) On the other side sat the Khodorkovsky defense team, smartly dressed, each with a laptop. In a glass cage behind them, looking more at ease and in a strange way freer than anyone in the room, sat Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, taking turns to follow the documentary evidence on a large Mac screen set up in front of their box while the other made notes. It was as though two Russias were sparring in the courtroom, one mediocre, nervous and browbeaten, the other smart, modern and surprisingly relaxed. As Khodorkovsky himself said last year, a country that plunders its best companies and jails its brightest businessmen and instead puts its trust in the secret police and bureaucrats has its priorities seriously wrong.

The oligarchs were, unarguably, bad for Russia. They used their money to buy political power, and in the process corrupted the Duma, the press and the government. But the bureaucrat-kleptocrats who succeeded them are far worse. Khodorkovsky, in his years of incarceration in a Siberian labor camp, has transformed himself from a symbol of the hated oligarchy into a bellwether for a different sort of Russian rottenness. The oligarchs abused their money, the Kremlin now abuses power to silence opposition and to cover up the mass theft by the bureaucratic class of what has been estimated as a third of Russia’s GDP, annually. Medvedev is right that Russia is rotting from within; he’s even put his finger on exactly how. But the second conviction of Khodorkovsky shows that Medvedev, with all his brains and talk of reform, hasn’t made a whit of difference. _Newsweek


China is widely celebrated as the economic success story for the 21st century. The rapid growth of China's economic and military power suggests that the world may be approaching a change of hegemons. But is it possible that both China's military power, and its economic prospects, may be somewhat overstated?
When a government loses control of monetary policy, inflation follows. A few months ago, only the scariest "China bears" predicted 6% inflation for next year; now the People's Daily is admitting it may reach those levels "in some months."

The nonindependent People's Bank of China, staffed by reform-oriented technocrats, is being allowed to raise interest rates a few basis points. But allocating credit on the basis of its cost threatens the whole political economy. The state-owned companies have become accustomed to negative real interest rates. If the price of capital rises, many of the Communist Party elite will face a crunch. _WSJ
When one looks beneath China's Potemkin facade, one is apt to see enormous corruption, infrastructure overbuild, massive misallocation of resources, and a shockingly shoddy level of construction and impending collapse of poorly-built structure.

Emerging Markets

There is a lot of money to be made in emerging markets, if one understands some of the hazards involved.
...there is evidence of growing state involvement in both the economy and corporate sector across many emerging markets. This could hurt investors in a number of ways, most notably by governments forcing companies to prioritise social or geopolitical objectives over economic returns.

From an economic perspective, the main issue facing investors in emerging market equities is currently the degree of overheating, which is evident across a number of economies in the form of rising inflation and/or current account deficits.

Commodity price increases in particular have had a more inflationary impact on emerging than developed economies, because of their higher weightings in price indices and – more importantly – the narrower output gaps. _FT
There are more reasons for caution in the linked FT article.

One Ring to Bind Them, ... To Rule Them All

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) aims to write the rules and set the standards which the entire world will live and work under. The goals of the IPCC are ambitious: a massive transfer of resources from the developed world to the undeveloped world. As justification for this resource transfer, the IPCC claims to be saving the world from a cataclysmic collapse resulting from anthropogenic greenhouse gas-caused climate change. How good is the IPCC's record?
Remember all the media brouhaha about global warming causing hurricanes that commenced following the devastating U.S. 2004 season? Opportunities to capitalize on those disasters were certainly not lost on some U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change officials. A special press conference called by IPCC spokesman Kevin Trenberth announced "Experts warn global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense activity."

But there was a problem. Christopher Landsea, a top U.S. expert on the subject, repeatedly notified the IPCC that no research had been conducted to support that claim--not in the Atlantic basin, or in any other basin. After receiving no replies, he publicly resigned from all IPCC activities. And while the press conference received tumultuous global media coverage, Mother Nature didn't pay much attention. Subsequent hurricane seasons returned to average patterns noted historically over the past 150 years, before exhibiting recent record lows with no 2010 U.S. landfalls.

Much global warming alarm centers upon concerns that melting glaciers will cause a disastrous sea level rise. A globally viewed December 2005 BBC feature alarmingly reported that two massive glaciers in eastern Greenland, Kangderlugssuaq and Helheim, were melting, with water "racing to the sea." Commentators urgently warned that continued recession would be catastrophic.

Helheim's "erratic" behavior reported then was recently recounted again in a dramatic Nov. 13 New York Times article titled "As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas." Reporters somehow failed to notice that only 18 months later, and despite slightly warmer temperatures, the melting rate of both glaciers not only slowed down and stopped, but actually reversed. Satellite images revealed that by August 2006 Helheim had advanced beyond its 1933 boundary.

According to two separate NASA studies, one conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the other by the Langley Research Center, the oceans now appear to be heading into another natural periodic cooling phase within a typical 55- to 70-year dipolar warm/cool pattern. Although Greenland has recently been experiencing a slight warming trend, satellite measurements show that the ice cap has been accumulating snow growth at a rate of about 2.1 inches per year. Temperatures only recently began to exceed those of the 1930s and 1940s when many glaciers were probably smaller than now. (We can't be certain, because satellites didn't exist to measure them.)

A recent study conducted by U.S. and Dutch scientists that appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience concluded that previous estimates of Greenland and West Antarctica ice melt rate losses may have been exaggerated by double. Earlier projections apparently failed to account for rebounding changes in the Earth's crust following the last Ice Age (referred to as "glacial isostatic adjustment").

Nils-Axel Morner, head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden, argues that any concerns regarding rising sea levels are unfounded. _Forbes
The same abysmally misleading alarmism as was applied to glacier melting and sea level rise has been applied to "ocean acidification" and "polar bear extinction". Polar bears are thriving, and ocean pH continues within normal historical ranges -- except in specific third world harbour and river delta areas where dumping of waste will continue regardless of what the IPCC says or does.

It is time for thoughtful humans to understand that they must use their own judgment when evaluating the future prospects of nations, regions, and intergovernmental alliances. Everything is now in a state of flux, due to the collapse of leadership in much of the Anglosphere and in the EU. Debt and demography are combining and building to a coming chaos.

The forces of dissolution have been loosed, consequently. Temptation to revolution, secession, and violence on national & international scales will grow as economic and social conditions deteriorate.

The one counter-trend which can be glimpsed across Europe and the Anglosphere are the popular and grassroots movements -- still small and in minority status -- which are opposing the damning trends of debt and demography. It is possible that these groups will provide a mitigating force, at least in particular regions and countries.

Locate the islands of stability which will provide the safest harbours for you and your families. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

A Space Elevator to Survive the Great Transition?

The idea of a space elevator is not a new one — In fact, it was theorized as far back as 1895 by a Russian called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who proposed a free-standing “Tsiolkovsky” tower that would stretch from the Earth’s surface to a ‘counterweight’ somewhere in geostationary orbit...

...Carbon nanotubes are a modern material with tremendous potential. While they are less than 1/50,000 the width of a hair, when wound together a string the width of a sewing thread could hold the weight of a car. In theory, it could support the 30 tons per square millimetre needed to constructed such an incredible system. Miodownik added, “Carbon nanotubes are still under development but they are the first material we have seen that could be strong enough for this task.” _inhabitat_via_SundayTimes

Humans can solve the technical problems of space -- radiation, micro-gravity, volatiles (including water), space habitats, more rapid interplanetary travel etc -- as long as they have a cheap, high-throughput access point to space. A space elevator would provide cheap and regular, scheduled movement from Earth to space, but modern materials are not up to the task. Space elevator designers are looking to carbon nanotubes as one material which may be strong enough to handle the enormous stresses involved.
The idea of a 'space elevator' has been around since the late 1800s. Until now, there wasn't a material strong enough to build it. Then carbon nanotubes stepped in.

...Carbon nanotubes, tiny hollow tubes made of interlocked carbon molecules, are tough enough to meet the challenge. If they were woven together, a single strand the width of a thread could support a car. A large enough block of carbon nanotubles could form a 'thread' 22,000 miles long. The thread would be kept taut by Earth's gravity on one side and the centrifugal acceleration of a Nasa refueling station/touristy snack bar and souvenir stand on the other. Between them an elevator would creep up the length of the carbon nanotube thread, carrying supplies and passengers. _io9_via_Impactlab
Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist at King’s College London, announced the new proposal at the Royal Institution’s Christmas lecture which is set to be broadcast on BBC4 at the end of the month. Speaking about the concept of a ‘space elevator’, Miodownik said, “The idea of an elevator into space has been around for some decades now and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, in his 1979 book The Fountains of Paradise. However the idea was never practical because there was no material strong enough to support its own weight over the huge distance necessary to reach from Earth to space.” “What has changed is the discovery of carbon nanotubes, a form of carbon that can be woven into fibers. They are still under development [and] in theory they are strong enough to reach into space.”

If it was constructed, such a cable would need to be kept under tension by the forces of gravity and outward centrifugal acceleration. In theory, the counterweight, which would keep the whole thing stable, would be a docking and refuelling station for future space missions. In fact, NASA has pledged $3 million over the next five years to research the idea and is working on scale models. _Inhabitat_via_SundayTimes
NASA has lived and died by its ability to service the needs of corrupt politicians such as Al Gore. But the only use Obama has for NASA is the ongoing abuse of science at the NASA GISS center for climate modeling and climate history manipulation, under James Hansen et al.

This means that any working space elevator the world sees, will be a space elevator constructed by anyone but NASA.

The transition from an earth-bound species of limited outlook to a space-going species of unlimited outlook, will be violent and bloody. When space elevators are constructed initially, they had best be of the super-robust variety. Because they will instantly become the target of every stone-aged religionist and culturalist the world around.


Bookmark and Share

27 December 2010

Abandoning Western Civilisation: Views of an Evolving Professor

Professor Bruce Charlton is a complex person. Having first trained in medicine and psychiatry, over the years, Charlton has lectured on Theoretical Medicine, Evolutionary Psychiatry, Psychology, Epidemiology, Anatomy, and Physiological Sciences. Charlton has published a large number of articles, several books, has championed some original ideas in the area of "psychological neoteny", and most recently has been involved in controversy as editor of "Medical Hypotheses", a speculative medical journal.

One recent article in Charlton's blog, Bruce Charlton's Miscellany, caught my eye: Should Western Civilization be Saved? In the article, Charlton expresses the view that since western civilisation contains the seeds to its own destruction, it can probably not be saved regardless of what is done.

Since much of the Al Fin enterprise is devoted to saving just enough of western civilisation to jump-start "the next level," Charlton's warnings of the impending demise of the west are not taken lightly in the planning offices of the Al Fin Consolidated Syndicates.

Charlton is not the first thinker to declare that the west is doomed. And he will not be the last. But he is a thinker and blogger of considerable depth, and his ideas should be taken seriously.
The self-destroying aspects of the West have always been there, and they permeate or are woven-into the whole.

Western Civilization has always been changing - not merely superficially, but deeply. It has never been stable - not even for two generations in a row.

The West is continually becoming more abstract, more specialized, less Christian.

There is no evidence that The West ever could be stable - and everything suggests the opposite. _BCM
Notice the reference to Christianity. Such thoughts will prove important to understanding his meanings. Charlton was once an atheist, and his change of heart to religious belief casts his ideas under a fascinating lighting scheme. All the same it is best to take a person's words at "face value" (as you interpret the term), and shade the meanings appropriately as you learn more.
The West is perpetually in transition: it has no essence: it is evolutionary.

Those who set out their stall on defending 'Western Civilization' are therefore either defending a process (markets, democracy, 'the Open Society'), and an evolutionary process which might lead anywhere, including to self-destruction of Western Civilization (as, in my opinion, it already has)....

Or else they are really defending some other bottom line entity that is not Western Civilization and would quite likely dispense with Western Civilization at some point in the future: e.g. a nation or group of nations, a race, a ruling lineage (e.g. of monarchs, or castes)... the preservation of which might well necessitate at some point dispensing with what are currently 'Western values'.

In other words, if you favour a process (like democracy, sexual freedom) you must be prepared to sacrifice an entity (like a nation or a race): if you favour an entity you must be prepared to dispense with processes.

So, I am saying that it is strictly nonsense - and destructive nonsense - to claim to be defending Western Civilization.

...The West cannot be saved.

There is nothing to save; and anyway The West has self-destruction built-in, woven-in, pervasive.

How can you save something which so much wants to kill itself?

Take your eye off Western Civilization for just a moment and it will be swinging from the rafters with its own belt around its neck... _BCM
The suicidal references, coming from a psychiatrist who has himself suffered considerable recent tumult, are no doubt very meaningful.

The west is certainly full of contradictions and mutually destructive movements of variable and cyclic vitality. But is it true that "there is no there, there?" Certainly the west can be quite difficult to define and pin down in a comprehensive way. Is the modern west, for example, similar enough to the civilisations of ancient Greece, Rome, and middle ages Christianity, to consider it the same civilisation that is a bit futher along in evolutionary time? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Can you not ask the same questions about any particular human mind? We are full of contradictions, and we all carry the seeds of our own destruction. Each living human is evolving in both constructive and destructive ways.

Civilisations can survive the deaths of any number of its members, of course, so the evolutionary stream of a civilisation is much more interesting to observe.

It is true that a civilisation can destroy itself, or evolve "away from itself." But there are particular essences within a civilisation which can be worth saving, even if such essences are capable of creating instabilities within the system. If you try to remove all sources of instability from a civilisational system, you are left with a stagnant system which will choke on its own offal. At that point, competing civilisations will take over the territory, or a new civilisation will rise from the grave of the old.

The urge for stability can be taken too far, with fatal results for dynamic systems of all kinds -- from human brains to civilisations.

It is absolutely crucial that humans who are capable of doing so should learn to think "one level up" from Charlton's fascinating discussion. I am certain that Charlton is capable of such meta-thought. But many people who choose an orthodox ideology later in life (or at any time in life) can be resistant to lines of thought which may compel change.

Suffice it to say that Al Fin Futurologists conceive of a next level civilisation which owes a great deal to modern western civilisation -- particularly to western thought, from the European renaissance through the writing of the US Constitution.

Given the significant changes in the human substrate of the next level, the resulting civilisation will "feel" different, and will derive much of its stability from the underlying agreed-upon principles of outlook. But the next level as conceived by the Al Fin Syndicates contains far more dynamism than conventional western thinkers can typically imagine.

You must have that tension between stability and dynamism.

More from Charlton's blog later.

More: This short essay by French Philosopher Andre Glucksmann should be read alongside the short article by Charlton. By looking at "the original birth of freedom" in Athens, it is perhaps possible to see more clearly some of the strengths and weaknesses of western civilisation. Glucksmann admits the instability inherent in freedom, but accepts the risk:
Athens did not perfectly succeed, and it eventually collapsed—just as our own democracies may someday collapse. I do not believe in the eternity of systems, even our own. Those founded on the attempted negation of chaos and the suppression of freedom will, I hope, collapse sooner. But those founded on freedom may be destroyed by the imbalance inherent in their constitutions, an imbalance that animates and sometimes consumes them. _CityJournal

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Boys Should be Breast-Fed Until at Least Age 6

Startling new research from Australia demonstrates that boys -- but not girls -- should be breast-fed until at least age 6, to achieve optimal academic performance.
Breast feeding improves later academic performance in boys but appears to have no such effect in girls.

Wendy Oddy at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Subiaco, Western Australia, and colleagues, examined whether having been breastfed affected the test scores of over 1000 10-year-olds.

Studies have suggested that children who were breastfed have higher IQs than those who were not, but few separated out boys and girls. Mothers who breastfeed are on average wealthier and more educated, so Oddy's team accounted for these factors.

Boys who were mainly breastfed for at least six months [years ... per Al Fin Nutritional Institute] scored 9 per cent higher in mathematics and writing tests, 7 per cent higher in spelling and 6 per cent higher in reading, compared with boys fed with formula milk or breastfed for shorter periods. There were no significant differences in results for girls.

"We know that breast milk contains the optimal nutrients for development of the brain and central nervous system," says Oddy, but the gender differences were surprising.
Hormone link

Oddy points out that other studies have suggested boys are more vulnerable to stress and adversity during critical periods of brain development. She speculates this could be because girls seem to be protected by higher levels of oestrogen during childhood. She says the improved academic performance of boys could be explained by oestrogen in breast milk having similar neuro-protective effects.

Some studies have suggested that fatty acids uniquely present in breast milk explain research showing that it can help babies become more intelligent. Whether or not these fatty acids help in boosting IQ may be linked to the presence of certain gene variants involved in their processing.

A large randomised trial conducted by Michael Kramer at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, concluded that prolonged breastfeeding was linked to higher IQ and academic ratings by teachers in Belarussian children at age 6... _NS

Al Fin specialists in childhood nutrition recommend that boys be breast-fed until at least age 26, if not longer. You can never be too safe when it comes to childhood nutrition. Girls, as noted, are protected by high estrogen levels. Boys -- even boys in adulthood -- are left to fend for themselves.

Research at the prestigious Al Fin Institute suggests that even simulated breastfeeding -- sucking well developed female breasts that are not lactating -- exerts a strong protective effect on the male brain, at any age.  This was a fortuitous finding, since it is much easier to find non-lactating volunteers.

More research is needed. Here at the Institute we have need of volunteers possessing nice, firm, well-developed breasts, so as to refine our earlier studies. No more males are needed, however, since we filled our quota for males within the first five minutes after announcing the study.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

26 December 2010

Optimism vs Pessimism: Which is More Rational?

Matt Ridley's latest book, "The Rational Optimist," highlights the deep vein of pessimism flowing through the modern human heart. The video above is from a May, 2010, presentation at Cato. More recently, David Boaz takes a brief look at The Rational Optimist, and how its main themes are viewed by various persons.

One of the most striking images from the video above is a graphic image comparing the areas of land required to support a single human under various regimes of food production. Hunter gatherers, for example, required about 1,000 hectares of land to feed each person. The use of slash and burn agriculture reduced that area to roughly 10 hectares of land per person. Agricultural methods of the 1950s reduced the area further to about 4,000 sq metres (0.4 ha) per person. Modern agriculture of the 2000s needs only 1250 sq metres to feed each person. And so it goes.

Ridley also looks closely at the marvelous economies that are possible from both trade, and division of labour. It is clear that over the long run, the plight of most living persons on Earth has gotten "better." More quantity and variety of foods to eat, longer lives, better treatments for disease, etc.

But life does not proceed along a monotonic curve. No doubt life was getting better in many ways in Pompei, just before Vesuvius uncorked itself. Not long before the eruption of Hitler's wehrmacht in Europe, there were many reasons for Europeans to believe that things were getting better, in recovering from economic devastation.

The point being that there are trends of varying duration. If you see that a short term trend appears to be aligned with a long-term trend, you may feel that you understand how things are going. But between the short and the long terms, the medium term trend can be a killer.

The actual texture of most trends is more like a fractal curve -- like the shoreline of Britain, rough and uneven at any scale of observation. Step back far enough and you can "fuzz out" most of the detail, leaving something like a simple trend. Zoom in closely enough at the right point and you may achieve the appearance of a simple trend -- perhaps in alignment with the long-term view, by chance.

We see this phenomenon of selective focus in various extrapolative dooms such as peak oil DOOM! and carbon hysteria DOOM!. Predictions of climate catastrophe depend upon the timescale selected, and selective omission of important details and uncertainties. Predictions of peak oil DOOM! depend upon timescale, ignorance of actual resource (see recent shock of shale oil bonanza) and a strict avoidance of the reality that the debate is not at its essence about oil, but is about useful energy.

Recent trends of debt and demography in Europe and the Anglosphere suggest that an economic retrenchment of very serious proportions is likely to occur within the next 1 or 2 decades. Such economic retrenchments have often been accompanied by wars, historically. I am not certain how to phrase an optimistic viewpoint of that reality.

But long-term trends in technology suggest that even cyclic problems which derive directly from innate human stupidity may be soluble within a century or two. Al Fin cognitive scientists and cognitive sociologists believe that correcting human stupidity itself would be a worthy goal.

It is important to maintain an open mind toward possible catastrophes, golden ages, and utopias. Many would-be utopians are not afraid to crack a large number of eggs to cook their golden omelettes. Likewise, many doomers are quite willing to be the instruments of the doom and dieoff which they so loudly predict.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

25 December 2010

Why Not the Lagos Symphony Orchestra?

Video h/t: Instapundit
The London Symphony Orchestra presents a seasonal performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, in the video above.

Handel was a German composer who transplanted himself to London, where he composed his greatest works, and where he was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey. Performances of Handel's Messiah are performed around the world near Christmas time.

What if cosmetic changes were made to the appearances of the singers and musicians in the video above, and the video were labeled "Handel's Messiah performed by the Lagos Symphony Orchestra?" Would you be surprised at the quality of musicianship, or by the ornateness of the performance hall? Would you be puzzled as to why Nigerians would celebrate Handel's Messiah? Would you be amazed that Lagos even has a symphony orchestra? (Lagos does have a symphony of sorts, in development)

Is it a mark of racism not to expect great performances from a Port-au-Prince Symphony Orchestra, or a Nairobi Symphony Orchestra? There is a Nairobi Symphony, by the way, although it can be difficult finding performances by the group on YouTube.

Why is it impolite to bring up such questions at faculty cocktail parties? You find symphony orchestras across East and South Asia, South America, North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand... In countries large and small across the civilised world, orchestras form and fight to survive through good times and bad. Even Antarctica would have a symphony if the scientists, technicians, and explorers stayed longer and outposts were close enough together to bring enough talent together.

Take a look at the list of African symphony orchestras. North Africa has three countries with symphony orchestras, all with a past history of strong European influence. South Africa has multiple symphony orchestras, but most of them will no doubt suffer the fate of the late Rhodesian symphonies. Kenya claims two orchestras, but they were no doubt formed under British colonial rule, and are likely struggling to survive. Ghana claims a symphony orchestra, but its website has not been updated since 2004.

No doubt it is quite gauche to discuss such a topic -- especially on Christmas -- but how do humans expect to solve their problems if they are unwilling to look at them clearly and unblinkingly?

Rapid growth in low IQ populations coupled with an implosion of high IQ populations results in a steadily decreasing global IQ. Low IQ populations combined with fanatical religions of conquest such as fundamentalist Islam lead not only to an Idiocracy, they lead to a violent Idiocracy. And while the Idiocracy movie was funny, it was not realistic. Coming idiocracies are almost certain to be very violent.

Every tax, regulation, law, and court judgment that leads to a re-distribution of wealth and resources from productive sectors to the coming Idiocracy, is dysfunctional. Political correctness is helping to bring about a coming anarchy, a growing Idiocracy. You may not be able to stop it, but for the sake of a decent future, stop voting for it!

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

24 December 2010

Evil Feminist Scientist Plots Elimination of Human Males!

Sterile human male technique[1][2] is a method of biological control, whereby millions of sterile human males are released. The sterile males compete with the wild males for female humans. If a female mates with a sterile male then it will have no offspring, thus reducing the next generation's population. Repeated release of sterile males can eventually wipe out a population, although cloning of human females should allow human survival at desired levels.

The technique is planned to first eradicate the Mormon and Baptist male in areas of North America, as a pilot project. Then, all North American males will be targeted. Next are plans to eradicate human males in Europe and Northeast Asia.

After successful elimination of European and East Asian males, an extended hiatus in the project is planned, to evaluate the results. _AlFinipedia
Revoking Humanity Starting With Males
Australian researchers in 2010 discovered the key to the sterile human male technique, which brings all of our plans within reach.
Adelaide researchers have discovered a way of creating a male human without a Y chromosome by activating a single gene, called SOX3, in the developing fetus. SOX3 is known to be important for brain development but has not previously been shown to be capable of triggering the male pathway.

Professor Manloff and her colleagues have generated male humans with two X chromosomes by artificially activating the SOX3 gene in the developing gonads.

"These XX male 'sex reversed' humans are completely male in appearance, reproductive structures and behavior, but are sterile due to an inability to produce sperm," she says. _Al Fin Science News
The Australian feminist professor has given us just what we need to eliminate the scourge of males. Until we can perfect the pluripotent stem cell - to - sperm technique, we will need to rely upon the "Dolly" technique of human cloning. Just add life extension technology, and a brave new world should soon appear. A utopian world of women, that is now within our reach. Rejoice, sisters, we conquer!

Apologies to Wikipedia and Science Daily, for the entirely unauthorised alteration in content.


Bookmark and Share

Humans to Terra: Merry Christmas, and Thanks for All the Gas!

Arguably the biggest story in the United States energy scene, and de facto for the rest of the world, has been the development of shale gas. Natural gas production in the United States was flat from about 1995 to 2005, standing at about 2 Tcf per month. But over the last five years, production started going up (see graph) moving to around 2.3 Tcf per month. The entire increase is because of shale gas, contributing at least 17 percent of domestic production. This is remarkable, considering that shale gas accounted for an estimated 2 percent just a few years ago. _EnergyTribune

The shale gas revolution has hit US and world energy markets like a massive sledge hammer. But the impact of abundant unconventional hydrocarbons has barely registered on the "energy seismic detectors" up until now. Despite the best efforts of carbon hysterics, energy starvationists, and faux environmentalists to put the djinn back in the bottle, Terra's huge and expanding reserves of natural gas can no longer be denied -- and will not be refused.

Geoffrey Styles looks at some interesting aspects of shale gas economics, and explains why airheaded proponents of unreliable wind power are so resentful of shale gas:
Perhaps one reason the impact of cheap natural gas hasn't sunk in yet is that the main market price for gas, the futures price at the Henry Hub in Louisiana, doesn't have much relevance for the average consumer. Residential gas customers don't buy their gas in the million-BTU (MMBTU) lots in which the futures contract is denominated; we buy gas in therms--one tenth of an MMBTU--and by the time we see it on our bills all sorts of handling and distribution fees and mark-ups have been added on. But when you compare the price of traded gas in barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to the price of West Texas Intermediate crude, the remarkable divergence of the last two years becomes obvious, as shown in the chart above. Between 2000 and 2006 gas and oil tracked each other closely, allowing for the greater seasonal volatility of the former. There were even periods when a barrel-equivalent of gas was worth more than a barrel of oil. Yet while oil and gas prices fell precipitously when the recession and financial crisis burst the various asset bubbles, they have diverged sharply since then, with oil advancing back up to today's $91/bbl and gas settling in to the $20-25/bbl range in which we were accustomed to see oil prices a decade ago. Adjust that for inflation and you're looking at an average natural gas price for 2010 equivalent to $20/bbl in 2000. _GeoffreyStyles
In early December, Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced a huge shale gas find that could supply the country’s gas needs for 50 years. A Moroccan delegation has already called upon U.S. shale expertise to help develop its resources. And, speaking at the World Shale Gas Conference in Dallas-Fort Worth in November 2010, Ukraine Government ministers proudly proclaimed their country had “the biggest shale gas deposits in the world”.

Meanwhile, China and India have been quick to spot the game-changing qualities of domestic shale gas development. China’s deposits could exceed 1000 Tcf (Wang and Economides, Paper SPE 133458, 2010.) Last year, China signed the U.S.-China Shale Gas Resource Initiative, the latter already perceiving the U.S. as the world leader in shale gas technology.

That the global energy landscape is switching in favour of gas is also confirmed by developments at the energy majors. In an interview with Fortune magazine, asked about the future strategy of Big Oil, Shell President Marvin Odum stated that by 2012 Shell would be producing more gas than oil. _EnergyTribune
Shale gas has just begun to touch the world's energy balance -- and shale gas is just the beginning of unconventional hydrocarbons. [Editor: Along with oil sands and heavy oils]

Carbon hysterics, energy starvationists, and faux environmentalists hate shale oil and other unconventionals for what such reliable energy sources will mean for the Green crusade of lefty-Luddite dieoff.orgiasm. Even T. Boone Pickens has abandoned loony wind power in favour of unconventional gas.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy


Bookmark and Share

23 December 2010

Does Homo Erectus Walk Among Us?

There is a lot of discussion about a recent Nature article which looks at DNA from an ancient group of humans found in Denisova Cave in Russian Siberia.
Fossils found in the Russian republic of Altai belong to a previously unknown branch of human development.

Researchers at the University of California who were conducting the study found that the remains belong to a little girl, who died 30,000 years ago.

According to experts, she was not of the Neanderthal species, as a tooth similar to the structure Homo Erectus teeth was discovered. _Ruvr.ru

Some modern-day people carry Denisovan genes. Through genetic comparisons Pääbo’s team found that some people from Melanesia — an assemblage of islands off Australia’s east coast, including New Guinea — share 4 to 6 percent of their genomes with the Denisovans. This probably indicates that the Denisovans interbred with anatomically modern humans despite the split between our lineages over a million years ago. _Wired

The most significant finding in the paper is the demonstration that some living humans trace significant fraction of their ancestry to the population represented by the Denisova genome. As in the case of Neanderthals, different human populations show significantly different levels of similarity to the Denisova sequence. For Neanderthals, the similarities indicated between one and four percent Neanderthal ancestry for living people outside of Africa. In the case of the Denisova sequence, the greatest similarities are with living people in Melanesia – in this paper, represented by genome samples from Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. The similarities are consistent with approximately 4% contribution of a Denisova-like population to the ancestry of these living Melanesians.

The paper estimates that together, the Denisova and Neanderthal-derived genes account for 8% of the ancestry of these living people. _JohnHawks
...the evidence now suggests that an ancestral group of early humans left Africa up to 400,000 years ago and diverged, with one branch heading to Europe and becoming the Neanderthals and a second moving east and becoming Denisovans.

When modern humans left Africa - some 80,000 years ago - they came into contact with first the Neanderthals before another group interbred with Denisovans, the traces of which now exist in Melanesia. _Telegraph

John Hawks' Denisova FAQ

Interesting discussion of implications for anthropology and the "Out of Africa" thesis

Greg Cochran suggests in comments that Denisovans are likely an Asian Homo Erectus.

Erectus Walks Among Us -- a free-wheeling, highly speculative and imaginative look at an alternative anthropological theory contesting "Out of Africa" in a most strenuous manner.  Unintentionally humorous in many ways.  Not Safe for Work

Apparently, due to the Denisovan findings and the recent Neandertal genome findings, a lot of anthropological data will need to be re-sorted and reclassified. It does not help matters when issues of "political correctness" which are so rampant in the field of "cultural anthropology" are allowed to intrude upon the far more scientific branch of "physical anthropology."

Unfortunately, modern science is so corrupted by political constraints and politicised funding and publishing, that an objective study of many areas of science is practically prohibited. Time may erode the stranglehold of political correctness on science, eventually.


Bookmark and Share

Governments are Not Forever: The Coming Idiocracy

Think of Prichard, Alabama, as the preview of coming attractions. Mayor Ronald Davis, pictured at left, is the face of Prichard's government. Prichard's government is like many local governments across the US deep south and California, except perhaps a bit advanced in its progression toward a corrupt inability to meet its obligations.
the declining, little-known city of Prichard is now attracting the attention of bankruptcy lawyers, labor leaders, municipal credit analysts and local officials from across the country. They want to see if the situation in Prichard, like the continuing bankruptcy of Vallejo, Calif., ultimately creates a legal precedent on whether distressed cities can legally cut or reduce their pensions, and if so, how.

“Prichard is the future,” said Michael Aguirre, the former San Diego city attorney, who has called for San Diego to declare bankruptcy and restructure its own outsize pension obligations. “We’re all on the same conveyor belt. Prichard is just a little further down the road.”

...The city’s rapid decline began in the 1970s. The growth of other suburbs, white flight and then middle-class flight all took their tolls, and the city’s population shrank by 40 percent to about 27,000 today, from its peak of 45,000. As people left, the city’s tax base dwindled.

...The city had already taken the unusual step of reducing pension benefits by 8.5 percent for current retirees, after it declared bankruptcy in 1999, yielding to years of dwindling money, mismanagement and corruption. (A previous mayor was removed from office and found guilty of neglect of duty.) The city paid off its last creditors from the bankruptcy in 2007. But its current mayor, Ronald K. Davis, never complied with an order from the bankruptcy court to begin paying $16.5 million into the pension fund to reduce its shortfall.

A lawyer representing the city, R. Scott Williams, said that the city simply did not have the money. “The reality for Prichard is that if you took money to build the pension up, who’s going to pay the garbage man?” he asked. “Who’s going to pay to run the police department? Who’s going to pay the bill for the street lights? There’s only so much money to go around.”

Workers paid 5.5 percent of their salaries into the pension fund, and the city paid 10.5 percent. But the fund paid out more money than it took in, and by September 2009 there was no longer enough left in the fund to send out the $150,000 worth of monthly checks owed to the retirees. The city stopped paying its pensions. And no one stepped in to enforce the law.
When the human capital of a municipality, state, or country is allowed to decay -- when unqualified people rise to positions of responsibility and power -- why should anyone be surprised when complex systems decay and collapse?

Across large parts of North America, Europe, and Oceania, human competence is being lost over time, and replaced by persons who are less than competent. Sometimes the explanation for a human system's failure lies in the corruption and lack of integrity of the system's leaders and operatives. In many cases it is not actually the fault of the persons placed in positions of responsibility -- it is the Peter Principle at work.

The problem is widespread and growing rapidly. If you have been unaware of the phenomenon, the wakeup call can be a bit of a shock.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

21 December 2010

How Much Crap Will Americans Take from Their Governments?

Before the US could become an independent country, it had to fight a bloody revolution in order to force Britain to release its claim on the colonies. The US experienced its ups and downs, over the centuries, but other than a brief civil war its people have remained relatively loyal to the crown government. But things do tend to change over time, and we may soon see just how far royalty-imitating US governments can push their subjects before the people decide to rebel.

Many members of the ruling classes suffer under the delusion that "The Tea Party Movement" is as bad as rebellions in the US are likely to get. Consequently these pseudo-intellectual twits tend to direct their most concentrated bile against people such as Sarah Palin or Sharron Angle. These complacent fools have a lot to learn, and a long way to fall.

The US federal government is spending its way into oblivion -- but the US government can have new money printed to make up its deficits. US states, cities, and counties, are likewise spending themselves into perdition, but they cannot print their own money. Consequently, they must issue bonds and otherwise borrow money to operate. But as these local governments continue to spend beyond their means, eventually even bond investors begin to wise up. Their bonds lose value, and such governments must pay more to borrow more.

When governments reach the end of their ability to borrow, they will be forced to cut services and other obligations. But even cutting services and all obligations except for public sector union contracts will not save the cities, states, and counties. These profligate spenders are going to have to do the unthinkable -- declare bankruptcy and slash their union contracts to the bare bones.

Even that will not be enough. They will have to go back on their word to workers and retirees, and in many cases dump public sector union contracts altogether -- and make public sector unions illegal for many occupations such as police and fire.

The unions will not sit still for this, in fact they will become even more violent than we are accustomed to seeing them become. In addition, when police and fire departments go on strike, let the public beware. Many cities, counties, and states have already begun cutting back on essential services, so when law enforcement and fire departments go on strike, a lot of people may not notice very much difference.
The Pew Center on the States estimates $1 trillion of underfunding for the pensions and health benefits of states.

Economists Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Rochester and Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University have higher totals for pensions alone; their gaps are about $3 trillion for states and almost $600 billion for localities.

Underfunded health benefits for states and localities together are reckoned by different studies between $500 billion and $1.5 trillion, report economists Robert Clark and Melinda Morrill of North Carolina State University.

Whatever the ultimate costs, they threaten future levels of public services. The generous benefits encourage workers to retire in their late 50s or early 60s after 25 years of service. The health benefits typically provide coverage until retirees qualify for Medicare at 65.

To pay for unfunded benefits, either government services must be cut or taxes must be raised. _Samuelson
Here is the public union problem in a nutshell: Union members lobby vociferously for untenable wages and benefit packages. Greedy politicians willing to accept bribes to get reelected, go along. On any threat of reduction in benefits, union organizers get out the vote with massive fear-mongering campaigns promising ruin if they do not get what they want. At election time unions donate massively to candidates willing to back union sponsored agenda. Over time, school boards, city halls, and legislative bodies in general get packed with politicians accepting bribes (campaign contributions) from the unions. _Mish
Like homeowners, states and cities splurged on debt and found inventive ways to get around borrowing limits to finance projects they couldn’t pay for otherwise. And recently the federal government encouraged investors to pour their money into the coffers of these less-than-creditworthy borrowers.

Now some of those investors, like the few lonely mortgage-industry short sellers in 2005–06, have started betting against the borrowers. Time reports that some of them “are jumping into the credit default swap market to bet against cities, towns and states.” A CDS is an insurance contract that protects a bond holder against default. But there’s a difference: You don’t necessarily have to be exposed to the underlying bond to buy a CDS. They can be bought or sold, and are priced depending on the market’s perception of bond default probability. If the risk increases, it is likely that the demand for CDSs will too, leading to an increase in their price. Brian Fraser, a partner at the law firm Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP, told Time, “The spreads on CDSs have been growing, and the dollar amount of CDSs on municipals has grown in the last year. That’s a clear warning sign that people are effectively starting to short the muni market.”

The state and municipal debt crisis could culminate in a request for the third near-trillion-dollar bailout of the last two years. That much federal borrowing on top of the current debt could very quickly have an impact on interest rates and on the dollar. And at that point, we can just forget about the recovery. _ReasonMag
The last quote above suggests that once the repercussions from state and municipal defaults and overspending percolate through the federal government bailout process, we can forget about any economic recovery.

But that is just the author's optimism speaking. In reality what you can forget about is any kind of domestic harmony between government worker and taxpaying citizen.

What should you expect, ultimately? When all of the money-grubbing corruption at the state, municipal, and federal levels impacts the total economy and sinks through the thick skulls of the average citizen, producer, employer, and investor, there will be more anger and hostility within the citizenry than can be contained by traditional and legal means.

Anticipating this, the federal government and many states have tried for several decades to strip US citizens of their US Constitutional Bill of Rights 2nd Amendment right to own firearms equivalent to weapons used by average soldiers in the national infantry. Since most Americans do not own or practise with firearms regularly, the reaction against such rights-limiting moves have been only sporadic and limited. But some people have been paying attention.

Americans tend to think in narratives -- stories -- so the stories that are passed from parents to children and from peer to peer are significant, in terms of how Americans will act in the public sphere. The more oppressive and "lordly" governments and government employees tend to act toward ordinary citizens, the more often stories such as "Unintended Consequences", "Let Us Prey," and the long list of similar narratives will be passed from person to person.

Such ideas will not likely captivate the majority of Americans' minds, but compared to the number of Americans who sit at the controls of the corrupt governmental enterprises, the number of persons who become indignant at the growing tyrrany of the ruling classes is likely to be significant.

The problems of debt and corruption are not unique to American states, municipalities, or federal governments. Governments in Europe are facing the same problems -- with the added problem of a growing underclass of third world Muslims who are apt to generate bloody uprisings of their own.

The bond markets do not look good in the intermediate term, as all of this excrement contacts the rotating fan blades. The economic picture in general does not look good, which means that demand for economic goods such as commodities -- other than food -- does not look good.

How all of that will play out on the international stage -- who will be tempted to launch a war against whom, and so on -- must be left to your imaginations.

In the opinions of Al Fin economists and sociologists, it is public sector unions and their political partners in the US and other nations in the west who will bear a huge amount of blame for the economic brittleness and lack of flexibility which may ultimately (over decades) lead to governmental collapses across Europe and the Anglosphere. These public sector unions artificially inflate the sizes of governmental agencies to enhance their own power and income -- and prevent all governments and their agencies from downsizing during the inevitable, cyclic economic downturns which occur in any economic system.

As the next economic downturn develops long before we recover from the current one, the underlying dysfunctionality of politically correct, non-assimilated multiculturalism will manifest themselves in a very unpleasant manner.

You must know that those who are forewarned will more likely ride out the storm to reach the other side safely.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

20 December 2010

Massive Amounts of Water Entrained Into Earth's Mantle


As oceanic crustal plates grow and butt against continental plates, they subduct under the continental plates. As they dive into the Earth's mantle for "re-cycling", these ocean crusts carry large quantities of water and sediment with them. Geologists are learning more about what happens to the subducted water.
Scientists know: many volcanoes need water for their eruption. In the upper mantle, water lowers the melting temperature of the rocks. As a consequence, it melts faster and can ascend in form of magma to the Earth's surface. In areas where an oceanic plate is pushed underneath a continent by plate tectonics processes, large quantities of water reach the interior of the Earth.

Such a region, called subduction zone, can be found at the west coast of Latin and South America. Through large cracks formed during the subduction process of the oceanic plates water penetrates, is partly captured and transported in the mantle. There, high pressure and temperatures squeeze it out of the subducting plate and the water ascends back to the surface. On the way back it supports the formation of magma. Therefore all subduction zones are characterized by volcanoes at the continental margin.

"So far we knew that the entrainment of water into the Earth's mantle in the area of subductions zones is substantial and that it is released again by volcanic process. Nevertheless, the exact path of the water down to the mantle and back to the surface had so far not been shown in one unifying context," explains Tamara Worzewski, geophysicist in the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 574 "Fluids and Volatiles in Subduction Zones -- Climate Feedback and Trigger Mechanisms for Natural Hazards" who has investigated these processes. Together with Dr. Marion Jegen and Prof. Dr. Heidrun Kopp from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel and colleagues Dr. Heinrich Brasse from the Freie Universität Berlin and Dr. Waldo Taylor from Costa Rica, she was able to show for the first time the complete water path from the seafloor down to 120 kilometre depth and back to the surface using electromagnetic methods.

The study, now published in Nature Geoscience, is also part of Worzewskis PhD Study. _SD

Regular readers of Al Fin and Al Fin Energy will be aware of these blogs' interest in hydrocarbons that find themselves inside the Earth's mantle. But the fate of water in the mantle can be closely tied to the fate of much of the organic carbon which finds its way into the mantle by the same subductive process. Volcanic eruptions clear a great deal of both water and carbon from the mantle, along with other gaseous and mineral matter. It is part of the ongoing geologic cycles of the planet.

And yet, massive amounts of crustal organic carbon and mantle hydrocarbons persist long enough to migrate and transform into potentially economic reserves of "fossil fuels." Most of this resource will remain unkown to humans, despite a great deal of it settling within the growing technological and economic reach of humans.
We have barely begun to learn the basics about our planet, our climate, our solar system, our portion of the spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, and so on. How absurd it is that pseudoscientific quasi-religions such as catastrophic anthropogenic global warming orthodoxy, or peak oil DOOM!, should find such large, gullible, and enthusiastic followings.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Global Cooling Strikes Earth With a Vengeance?


An unusually cold and snowy December has struck across Europe, Wales, Ireland -- even Australia!!! This extreme cold goes against a brief, but multi-decadal trend of warming winters, and has many people asking whether there is an underlying (and unforeseen by climatologists) reason for the apparent switch in climate regimes?

Climate researcher David Archibald believes that there is something different about Solar Cycle 24 PDF. Archibald has come out publicly predicting that this solar cycle, and the one following, will be cycles of extremely low solar activity. Such an extended period of low solar activity may be similar to a historic cold spell that occurred between 1790 and 1830.
The Dalton Minimum was a period of low solar activity, named after the English meteorologist John Dalton, lasting from about 1790 to 1830.[1] Like the Maunder Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Dalton Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures. The Oberlach Station in Germany, for example, experienced a 2.0°C decline over 20 years.[2] The Year Without a Summer, in 1816, also occurred during the Dalton Minimum. _WUWT
It is best for humans to keep in mind that their lives are deeply affected by phenomena which are far larger than any human activity -- and go far beyond the ability of humans to influence.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

17 December 2010

Lipid Fermentation via Engineered Microbes for Bio-Jet Fuel


The US military's DARPA has awarded Logos technology with a $17.5 million phase 2 award to produce jet fuel from biomass, using microbial lipid fermentation.
This contract is to demonstrate an end-to-end Lipid Fermentation Process (LFP) at scale for the commercially viable production, from cellulosic biomass, of Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) spec jet fuel—a near term surrogate for JP-8 that can be readily commercialized.

HRJ is produced from renewable oils (lipids) by methods common in petroleum refining. Fatty acids and triglycerides are hydrotreated to remove oxygen, and the resulting paraffinic hydrocarbons are processed to yield a mixture of straight-chain, branched-chain, and cyclic paraffinic hydrocarbons with collective properties that are similar to those of conventional jet fuel.

Oleaginous yeast can produce lipids from the sugars resulting from the pretreatment and hydrolysis of biomass; certain fungi can also produce lipids, either via solid-state fermentation of biomass or from the biomass hydrolyzate.

This primary program effort is to consist of optimized process development and engineering along with regionally specific economic modeling to produce fuel, demonstrate process energy efficiency and support commercialization.

...This phase of the BioJET program requires the delivery of larger quantities of jet fuel with a projected cost of production of JP-8 at commercial scale implementation (50Mgal/yr) at less than $3.00 per gallon. _GCC
Al Fin bio-synthesists believe that the greatest value of current advanced biofuels research is to put a rough ceiling on future prices of hydrocarbon fuels. Peak oil doomsayers claim that liquid fuels will have no price ceilings when "peak oil" truly hits the fan.

But that claim has already been falsified by the fact that shale gas cost per BTU is well less than half the cost of crude oil per BTU. As efficiencies of conversion from gas to liquids improve, we will see the "price ceiling" effect of shale gas begin to affect markets. Something similar will begin to happen in about ten years, as more efficient biomass to liquids processes begin to scale up.

Like everything associated with energy these days, oil futures markets are heavily politicised, and infiltrated by persons whose behaviour is -- shall we say -- somewhat less than ethical. The fluctuations of oil markets are highly profitable to those who know how to put their fingers on the scale in a reasonably surreptitious manner. But the conversion of alternative and unconventional fuels to liquid hydrocarbons: GTL, CTL, BTL, kerogensTL, BitumensTL, etc etc, provides a multiple bypass to the oil commodities markets. Such alternative routes to fuel makes the work of the energy mafias and faux environmentalists much harder -- unless they can use bribed politicians to stop the alternatives and unconventionals.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share
Newer Posts Older Posts
Al Fin Main Page
Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

Powered by