31 March 2011

The News Media's Curious Slant on the Fukushima Incident

Due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, over 25,000 Japanese are dead or missing. At the Fukushima nuclear reactors, no one has died. Yet the news media has been stuck on full-hysteria mode over the Japanese nuclear reactors. The media is clearly focused on a goal other than reporting the important news of the day. What could it be?
As the situation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant slowly winds down, the salient facts remain the same as they have been throughout: nobody has suffered or will suffer any radiological health consequences. Economic damage and inconvenience resulting from the quake's effects on nuclear power have been significant, but tiny in comparison to all other human activities – the nuclear power plants in the stricken region have suffered less damage and caused less trouble to local residents than anything else that was there.

Despite this background, the details of which are now largely uncontested, hysteria continues to grip large sections of the news media and the internet. _Register
It is natural to be concerned about a disaster which might conceivably affect you or someone you care about. But intelligent people use such natural concerns as motivation to inform themselves on the facts. For a more balanced look at what is going on at the Fukushima reactors:

News roundup from Idaho Samizdat Nuclear Notes

A measured perspective on Fukushima from Brave New Climate

An interesting article published in The Atlantic suggesting that small modular nuclear reactors may receive a boost from higher level bureaucratic and political reaction to Fukushima. (H/T NEI Nuclear Notes)

The post-earthquake, post-tsunami incident at the Fukushima reactors is an economic and energy setback for the Japanese, as well as a public relations nightmare for the Japanese and the nuclear industry in general.

But the reason why the nuclear industry is being tarred so badly is because the world's media has focused its brightest lights on the reactors -- and decided to spew the most radioactively deceptive and misleading "reporting" as possible.

Yes, the world is becoming an Idiocracy -- it doesn't require a genius to see that. Corrupt and dysfunctional government school systems are not entirely to blame, either. Clearly the news and entertainment media play an even greater role in the education and informing of most citizens than the school systems, in the long run. If the media has chosen to dumb down and mislead the public, who will watch the watchers?

Am I saying not to worry about it, that nothing can go wrong? Just the opposite. I am saying to worry about it -- worry about everything. Worry so much that you are prepared for the worst that may come your way. Then hope for the best. Worry is just your brain's way of telling you to get off your lazy arse and learn what you need to learn, do what you need to do, and make whatever preparations you need to make.

No one should need to tell you to be very sceptical of anything you read or hear.

More on how the Fukushima incident may change the direction of the nuclear industry toward more "fail-safe" reactor designs.

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30 March 2011

Beware the Plastic Apocalypse!!!

Enviros See Armageddon In Every Plastic Bag

We are told the oceans are covered with floating plastic debris, clogging the ocean food chains and destroying free-swimming wildlife. But solid evidence of this eco-catastrophe is quite thin. And ever since a Canadian high-schooler (and another in Taiwan) in 2009 discovered species of microbes that thrive on eating plastic, most informed observers have been somewhat less concerned.

Since then, scientists in Ireland have begun to put microbes to work digesting waste plastics, and UK scientists have discovered plastic-eating microbes in ocean waters.
Sargasso Sea
The latest story in the long-running ocean apocalypse saga, involves scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Woods Hole scientists explored the Sargasso Sea, in search of plastic-eating bacteria.
Mincer and his colleagues examined bits of fishing line, a plastic bag and a plastic nurdle (a pre-production plastic pellet) fished out of the Sargasso Sea, an area of the North Atlantic where currents cause debris to accumulate. The region as a whole contains more than 1,100 tonnes of plastic1.

...Plastic-eating bacteria might help explain why the amount of debris in the ocean has levelled off, despite continued pollution. But researchers don't yet know whether the digestion produces harmless by-products, or whether it might introduce toxins into the food chain.

...Genetic analysis shows that the bacteria on the plastic differ from those in the surrounding seawater or on nearby seaweed, says microbiologist Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. So far, the DNA sequences obtained by her lab show that almost 25% of the bacteria on one polyethylene surface were vibrios, bacteria from the same group as the cholera bacterium.

...Amaral-Zettler and Mincer also found genetic and microscope evidence of eukaryotes — organisms with more complicated cells than bacteria — on the plastic. What she calls the "plastisphere" might contain complex living communities. "It may be a little world that we've created, for better or worse." _Nature_via_Impactlab

It is fascinating that particular ocean bacteria have adapted to using plastics as a food source. This is all quite reminiscent of the bacteria that have adapted to eating crude oil and methane gas around oil spills and and natural hydrocarbon seeps in the ocean floor.

To the bacteria, our discarded plastics are a feast and a windfall, allowing them to feed and reproduce to their microbial hearts' content. Of course the same phenomena occurs on land, except with a much wider range of microbes -- both prokaryotic and eukaryotic -- partaking of the cornucopian repast.

Environmentalists are concerned that the microbes may be releasing toxins into the seawater which will pollute larger sea creatures and perhaps get into the human food chain. A plastic apocalypse on the prowl, don't you see? And yet, in the middle of the ocean, nothing is wasted. If something can be seen as food, it will be used as food by something. That includes anything which humans may perceive as toxic.

Here is the amusing thing in all this: Waste plastics are increasingly being seen as valuable feedstocks in the production of synthetic fuels, chemicals, and other high-value substances. Gasification of solid wastes for production of power, process heat, and chemical/fuel feedstock is just getting started in the developed world. In the future, the only plastic wastes the oceans will see will be coming from places too primitive to know how to unlock their intrinsic value.

And no doubt there will be plenty of plastic-eating ocean microbes to take care of those remnants. Otherwise we will need to raise our seawalls quite high, to avoid the ocean plastic tsunamis that may come from Neptune, with a crashing vengeance.

Beware the plastic apocalypse.

More on plastic apocalypse 31March11: The death of the environment by plastic bags may have been exaggerated. (via Daily Bayonet)

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29 March 2011

Cyborg or Grobyc? You Be the Judge


Human brains are amazing mental machines. As far as we know, there is nothing else quite like it in the universe. But we always wonder whether perhaps, we could build something just a bit better? Observe all the excitement and expenditure, over the past 60+ years, directed toward "artificial intelligence." What a disappointment that has been so far.

For all the different approaches that have been taken to achieve machine intelligence, most of the failures share the same feature: they rely on algorithmic digital silicon logic. This seems a bit odd, when the only proof of concept of conscious intelligence we know of -- the human brain -- utilises a distinctly and entirely different type of logic.

Here is an interesting twist on the conundrum: Why not design a neuronal scaffolding out of nanotubes made of germanium and silicon, then allow neurons to grow within the scaffolding? The neurons will naturally make networked connections with each other along the scaffold, but an added bonus may be the ability to interface the neurons with the silicon-germanium substrate of the scaffold itself.
Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, led by Minrui Yu, have published an ACS Nano paper, "Semiconductor Nanomembrane Tubes: Three-Dimensional Confinement for Controlled Neurite Outgrowth," in which they show that they have been able to successfully coax nerve cell tendrils to grow through tiny tubes made of the semi-conductor materials silicon and germanium. While this ground-breaking research may not portend cyborgs or even human brains enmeshed with computer parts, it does open the door to the possibility of regenerating nerve cells damaged due to disease or injury.

Yu and his team, led by Justin Williams, a biomedical engineer, created tubes of varying sizes and shapes, small enough for a nerve cell to glam on to, but not so big that it could fit all the way inside. The tubes were then coated with nerve cells from mice and then watched to see how they would react. Instead of sitting idly, the nerve cells began to send tendrils through the tunnels, as if searching for a path to something or somewhere else. In some instances they actually followed the contours of the tubes, which means, in theory, that the nerves could be grown into structures. _PO
Indeed. The nerves could be grown into structures along prescribed pathways. But the possibility of a functional and powerful brain-machine interface is also being considered.
The hope of course, in this type of research, is that a way can be found to connect a computer of some sort to a group of nerve cells to reestablish communication that has been disrupted. The computer in this case could serve as a relay of sorts, allowing those who can no longer walk, for example, due to spinal injury or disease, regain their former abilities. In that regard, this particular research is even more revealing than it might at first seem, due to the fact that the tiny tubes that have been created, very closely resemble myelin, the outer insulating sheath that covers parts of normal nerve cells. _PO
This is the actual goal of the researchers in Wisconsin: to grow a nerve:computer interface. This is one approach to the brain:machine, or cyborg approach to extreme rehabilitation, or even augmentation for emergency workers or military personnel.

Another approach which is even more exotic than described above, would be to grow an intricate "nano-neural web" into the intact brain structure, to create millions of interfaces to all of the important centers of the brain. The idea behind such a grown nano-structure, besides providing an external brain:machine interface, would be to allow the conscious mind access to unconscious brain functions.

Emergent phenomena are likely to grow from the humble beginnings of such an approach. Growing a nano-neuro web interface inside an intact brain might be easier than growing one outside the brain, in some ways. The "growth front" of the web would merely need to follow pre-existing pathways, and could be assisted by internal and external feedbacks.

Alternatively, one could grow a scaffolding in vitro, according to the most advanced brain imaging, seed it with the appropriate proto-cells, and nourish it into an intricate, functioning, autopoietic neural:nano hybrid network. Any conceivable shape and combination of connections between artificially grown brain centers would be possible -- at any arbitrary and chosen level of complexity. Such an artificial -- but living -- brain could be provided with a rudimentary circulatory system, and implanted into the control structure of very sophisticated and highly connected machines and structures.

Cyborg or Grobyc? You be the judge.

Adapted from an article at Al Fin, the Next Level

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28 March 2011

Enlightening Video on Nerves into Brains

Starting with how neuroscientists mapped the brains of roundworms, the video moves ahead to the 3D mapping of a mouse retina and visual cortex. Finishing with the human brain connectome project, the video presents a useful introduction to how nerves fit together to make brains, for the curious.

Having a detailed 3D image of the static brain is just the beginning, of course. What you need is a dynamic 3D image of brain structure at all scales, superimposed by dynamic electromagnetic and blood flow data. In addition one would need dynamic detail at the molecular level for arterial, venous, lymphatic, CSF, intracellular and extracellular fluids and structures of the brain. Finally, one would need to know what was happening to the individual in real time -- both inside the body and outside the body.

At that point, one might begin to understand what was happening in the brain -- and perhaps take educated guesses about the mind. First person reports from the subject herself could refine one's approach.

From that preliminary position, you just take it from there, like in a jazz improvisation.

Video H/T neuropsychological.blogspot.com

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27 March 2011

The Limits of Smart Drugs

The Clear Pill

Why Smart Drugs Don't Work Like NZT

What are smart drugs? Pills that are supposed to enhance a person's cognitive abilities in some way. Anything from Ritalin to Amphetamines to Provigil might qualify, as well as a wide range of lesser known "nootropics."

These pills are not only popular among university students, but also among workers from truck drivers to pilots to fast-paced professionals who are pushing every synapse to its limit. They can enhance attention, prolong attention span, help keep the mind on topic. All very important when facing a deadline for a research paper, a big work project, or when cramming for an exam.

In one sense, advanced societies run on smart drugs. Western societies embraced coffee, tea, and chocolate as quickly as they could -- and significant battles were fought over the rights to market these early smart drugs.

Fast forward to today, and the "stimulant smart drugs" are being pumped onto the markets -- both legal and illegal -- at prodigious rates. But newer, more advanced generations of smart drugs may be on the horizon.

This Al Fin posting from 2007 is still one of the best summaries of the smart drug research pipeline I have found. Here is a more recent survey of the field from Gizmodo. Some of the newer drugs enhance attention, some enhance memory, some may enhance creativity.

But what about other approaches to getting smarter, besides drugs?
Instead of drugs, the first brain boosters to channel creativity could be electromagnetic devices designed to enhance cognitive skills. One fascinating proposal comes from Allan Snyder, director of the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney in Australia. He theorizes that autistic savants derive their skills from an ability to access “privileged, less processed sensory information normally inhibited from conscious awareness.” For normal people, tapping that sensory well might lead to deeply buried creative riches. To test the idea, Snyder and colleagues exposed subjects to low-frequency magnetic pulses (the technology is called transcranial magnetic brain stimulation, or TMS) that suppressed part of their brain function. The researchers found that the subjects acquired savantlike skills, including the ability to render more detailed, naturalistic art. _Discover

Electromagnetic stimulation of the brain probably has a great future ahead of it. But caution is always wise, when working in and around the brain.

All of these drugs -- past, present, and future generation -- are relative sledge-hammers compared to the intricate workings of the human brain. But the real reason smart drugs won't work like "NZT" (from the movie "Limitless") is because none of them can make the necessary changes in both function and structure, to turn mediocrity into brilliance. To do that it is necessary to tweak gene expression at multiple levels.

NZT is an idea whose time has come. But ideas can only take you so far. Converting this idea into a dynamic reality will take more than a little thought.

From an earlier posting at Al Fin, the Next Level


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26 March 2011

Constructing Your Own Cartesian Theatre

Cartesian Theater

The Cartesian Theatre is the place inside your head where you sit and watch the world unfold before your very eyes. Well, not really. In order for cognitive scientists to better understand how our brains create an interactive conscious experience, they actually had to demolish the Cartesian Theatre in order to assemble a structure of brain and mind that better fit with the research.

The search for the seat of consciousness has been a long and tumultuous journey, and by no means have humans come near the hidden prize. But some ideas are better than others -- some have thought the thing through more clearly than others, incorporating more of the confirmed research data into more elegant theories.

In "Self Comes to Mind," Antonio Damasio reveals some of his deepest and most recent ideas regarding the origin of the conscious self. It is worth quoting from Chapter 9 of the book to illustrate Damasio's search for the origin of self:
Several possible structures come to mind, but only a few can be seriously considered. An important candidate is the thalamus, a perpetual presence in any discussion of the neural basis of consciousness, specifically its collection of associative nuclei. The intermediate position of the thalamic nuclei, between the cerebral cortex and the brain stem, is ideal for signal brokering and coordination.

Although the associative thalamus is busy enough constructing the background fabric of any image, it plays a very important, albeit perhaps not the lead, role when it comes to coordinating the contents that define the autobiographical self. I will say more about the thalamus and coordination in the next chapter.

What are the other likely candidates? A strong contender is a composite collection of regions in both cerebral hemispheres that is distinguished by its connectional architecture. Each region is a macroscopic node located at a major crossroads of convergent and divergent signaling. I described them as convergence-divergence regions or CDRegions in Chapter 6 and indicated that they are made of numerous convergence-divergence zones. CDRegions are strategically located within high-order association cortices but not within the image-making sensory cortices. They surface in sites such as the temporoparietal junction, the lateral and medial temporal cortices, the lateral parietal cortices, the lateral and medial frontal cortices, and the posteromedial cortices. These CDRegions hold records of previously acquired knowledge regarding the most diverse themes. The activation of any of these regions promotes the reconstruction, by means of divergence and retroactivation into image-making areas, of varied aspects of past knowledge, including those that pertain to one’s biography, as well as those that describe genetic, nonpersonal knowledge.

...One of the main CDRegions, the posteromedial cortices (PMCs), appears to have a higher functional hierarchy relative to the others and exhibits several anatomical and functional traits that distinguish it from the rest. A decade ago I suggested that the PMC region was linked to the self process, albeit not in the role I now envision. Evidence obtained in recent years suggests that the PMC region is indeed involved in consciousness, quite specifically in self-related processes, and has provided previously unavailable information regarding the neuroanatomy and physiology of the region. (The evidence is discussed in the last sections of this chapter.)

...The final candidate is a dark horse, a mysterious structure known as the claustrum, which is closely related to the CDRegions. The claustrum, which is
located between the insular cortex and the basal ganglia of each hemisphere, has
cortical connections that might potentially play a coordinating role. Francis Crick was convinced that the claustrum was a sort of director of sensory operations charged with binding disparate components of a multisensory percept. The evidence from experimental neuroanatomy does reveal connections to varied sensory regions, thus making the coordinating role quite plausible. Intriguingly, it has a robust projection to the important CDRegion that I mentioned earlier, the PMC. The discovery of this strong link occurred only after Crick’s death and was thus not included in the posthumously published article that he wrote with Christof Koch, in which he made his case.1

The problem with the claustrum’s candidacy as coordinator resides in its small scale when we consider the job that needs to be performed. On the other hand, given
that we should not expect any of the structures discussed earlier to perform the
coordinating job single-handedly, there is no reason why the claustrum should not make a relevant contribution to the construction of the autobiographical self. _Self Comes to Mind
Damasio also describes a number of other key brain structures -- including the brain stem -- in connection with their role in constructing a conscious self. The path to consciousness is serpentine, and feeds back upon itself in intricate ways.
Antonio Damasio

What is the point to this? Simply, if you want to understand the mind -- your own or someone else's -- there are a number of things which you will need to process almost simultaneously, at various levels of basic and emergent logic. You cannot do that without having done a great deal of reading, thinking, experiencing, observing, and experimenting. Fortunately for non-scientists, the entire human world is a great experimental laboratory for studying cognition.

Secondarily, if you want to create a machine consciousness, you may want to understand how the only proof of concept in the known universe -- the human brain -- manages to achieve the task at variable levels of competence.


For an introduction to consciousness, Susan Blackmore's intro to the topic is one of the best places to start.

Antonio Damasio's book, Self Comes to Mind, is an interesting progression beyond an introductory review on consciousness.

At a somewhat deeper level, Gyorgy Buszaki's Rhythms of the Brain will connect many elements of neuronal structure and activity with higher levels of brain function.

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25 March 2011

The US is #1 in Hydrocarbon Resources Worldwide: Why Is the Obama Administration Pursuing a Policy of Energy Starvation?


A new report from the Congressional Research Service points out that in terms of total hydrocarbon resource, the US possesses the largest inventory of any nation on Earth. But under the Obama regime, an unstated but unrelenting program of "energy starvation" is being carried out -- from the DOE to the Department of Interior to the EPA, even including the NRC. It is one thing to be energy-poor because you lack the resources. It is quite another to intentionally cripple your own economy using half-baked policies of carbon hysteria, nuclear fear, and faux environmental crisis fabrication.

From coal to gas to oil to methane hydrates to kerogens, bitumens, uranium and thorium, the energy resources of the US remain largely untapped in comparison to their potential.
America’s combined energy resources are, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CSR), the largest on earth. They eclipse Saudi Arabia (3rd), China (4th) and Canada (6th) combined – and that’s without including America’s shale oil deposits and, in the future, the potentially astronomic impact of methane hydrates.

...if the White House is in any way serious about impacting the economic Black Hole that is the burgeoning national debt, reinvigorating business big-time, creating real jobs and restoring ebbing national wealth, the best shot by a distance if you’re American ... well, you’re standing on it, or rather above it.

...While the US is often depicted as having only a tiny minority of the world’s oil reserves at around 28 billion barrels (based on the somewhat misleading figure of ‘proven reserves’) according to the CRS in reality it has around 163 billion barrels. As Inhofe’s EPW press release comments, “That’s enough oil to maintain America’s current rates of production and replace imports from the Persian Gulf for more than 50 years”. Next up, there’s coal. The CRS report reveals America’s reserves of coal are unsurpassed, accounting for over 28 percent of the world’s coal. Much of it is high quality too. The CRS estimates US recoverable coal reserves at around 262 billion tons (not including further massive, difficult to access, Alaskan reserves). Given the US consumes around 1.2 billion tons a year, that’s a couple of centuries of coal use, at least.

...In 2009 the CRS upped its 2006 estimate of America’s enormous natural gas deposits by 25 percent to around 2,047 trillion cubic feet, a conservative figure given the expanding shale gas revolution. At current rates of use that’s enough for around 100 years. Then there is still the, as yet largely publicly untold, story of methane hydrates to consider, a resource which the CRS reports alludes to as “immense...possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels.” According to the Inhofe’s EPW, “For perspective, if just 3 percent of this resource can be commercialized ... at current rates of consumption, that level of supply would be enough to provide America’s natural gas for more than 400 years.”

...With 85 percent of global energy set to come from fossil fuels till at least 2035 no matter what wishful thinkers may prefer, current US energy policy – much like European – is pure political pantomime. _EnergyTribune

Adapted from an article at Al Fin Energy

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24 March 2011

Double Guest Posting: Advantages of Buying vs Renting a House AND Things You Should Know About Smoke Damage

10 Advantages of Buying a Home Versus Renting
from DoorFly.com by Ann Douglas

  1. Build Equity: A major advantage to buying a home over renting is the ability to build equity over years of ownership. You build equity as your home value increases and you can leverage this value to take out lines of credit. Tenants don’t receive equity when renting because they don’t own their house.

  2. Ownership: One of the biggest advantages of buying a home versus renting is the ability to own. Ownership gives you the right to upgrade your home, rent it out to tenants, sell it and do as you please. Buying a home is one of the most important and valuable investments a person can make.

  3. Make Upgrades: A major advantage of buying a home is having the ability to make upgrades and improvements that will increase its value and give it more curb appeal. Owning a home gives you the right to decorate, renovate and remodel as you please to make your home look just how you want it. Renting limits your ability to personalize your home because most landlords won’t allow their tenants to paint the walls, replace fixtures and appliances or make any major changes.

  4. Lock In Payments: When you buy a home, you secure a monthly payment that you will pay for the rest of the time you own the home. If your finances suddenly change and you need to scale back on your monthly expenses, you have the option of refinancing your mortgage to reduce your monthly payment. This does come with some risks and you may have to face higher interest payments, but it’s a nice option to have when money’s tight. Tenants have less control of their payments because rent can increase from lease to lease.

  5. Increase Line of Credit: Buying a home increases your line of credit and can improve your score in more ways than renting. Homeowners with an increased line of credit will have a higher credit limit and get low interest rates on credit cards and loans. Renting limits your credit-building opportunities and doesn’t make quite as big of a splash as having a mortgage in your name.

  6. Make a Profit: Whether you’re a business-savvy homeowner who’s looking to make a quick profit from flipping a house, or a homeowner who’s wanting to sell their house after it increased in value, you have the ability to make a profit when you own a home. When renting, you never make a profit because you don’t own the property.

  7. Payments Eventually End: A major advantage of buying a home versus renting is the simple fact that mortgage payments will eventually end one day. It usually takes about 15 to 30 years to completely pay off your house and own it for good. When renting, the payments just keep coming and they don’t end like a mortgage.

  8. Home Value Increases: After years of owning a home, its value increases. Depending on the neighborhood, schools and other property values, purchased homes generally appreciate in value throughout the years, making them more and more profitable. For many homeowners, their home is worth much more than what they bought it for. Renting doesn’t allow you to make a profit because you don’t own your home.

  9. No Landlords: When you buy a home, you no longer have to deal with pesky landlords. Having the freedom to run your house the way you want it and taking all tasks into your own hands is actually a rewarding responsibility.

  10. Emotional Satisfaction: Homeowners feel greater emotional satisfaction from having a piece of property in their name and investing their time and money toward something as important as a house. This is especially true for first time homebuyers. Renters may experience some emotional satisfaction and pride in renting, but not nearly as much as homeowners.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Smoke Damage
by Allen Wright at Home Alarm Monitoring
  1. Smoke Migrates to Cooler Areas: The behavior of smoke during a fire is largely dependent on temperature. Smoke is typically hot and migrates to cooler regions of your home. Unfortunately, the cooler regions of your home are often hard to reach places, like cabinets and the under side of furniture. This makes the cleaning process much more difficult and is one of the major consequence of smoke damage.

  2. Smoke Uses Plumbing to Migrate Through Your House: Smoke naturally travels through plumbing systems, using holes around pipes to travel from floor to floor. This is the best way for smoke to travel throughout homes and buildings and cause further damage. Vents and plumbing systems are cleaned and often replaced if smoke damage is great enough.

  3. Wet, Smoldering Fires Produce the Most Damaging Smoke: The type of fire and the type of smoke produced by the fire make a huge difference when it comes to cleaning smoke damage. Wet, smoldering fires produce highly volatile and noxious smoke, the effects of which can persist for years. One of the best things to do after a fire is to be sure that all wet spots are dry and that all smoldering embers are doused to prevent this highly damaging type of smoke.

  4. High Temperature Fires Produce Easy to Clean Smoke Damage: Contrary to what you might believe, high temperature fires tend to be less damaging than smoldering fires. Thatís because they burn very quickly and produce a different type of smoke that contains less damaging soot. As a result, even though the high temperature fire may seem like it would produce more damage, you may just get lucky.

  5. Smoke Damage Persists for Years Without Professional Help: You can attempt to clean smoke damage yourself, but without professional help the effects of smoke damage can persist in your home for years or even decades. Professionals can make our home seem brand new again with innovative chemical techniques and professional assessment of smoke damage. Do yourself a favor; hire an expert.

  6. The Most Damaging Component of Smoke is Invisible: While the billowing clouds of dark smoke may seem the likely culprit, it ís the invisible protein residues of smoke that can cause the most damage. These residues can break down metal, wood, paint, and even porcelain, and their highly volatile chemical make-up allows them to penetrate deep into almost any substance while remaining totally invisible. Beware of this invisible killer!

  7. After a Fire, you Must Consult the Fire Marshall Before Cleaning Your Home: You may want to get a head start on your smoke damage, but until you consult the fire marshal after a fire in your home, it is illegal for you to re-enter. A fire marshal will assess the safety of your home and be sure that nothing bad will happen once you re-enter after a fire.

  8. Smoke Damage Can destroy Metal and Wood Items: You might think that hearty substance like wood and metal would not be affected by smoke as much as upholstery and textiles. Youíd be wrong. The noxious protein residues in smoke can break down brass, copper, wood, and even stone, causing them to decay at an ultra rapid rate. Be sure to let a professional know about the exposure of wood and metal items to smoke and the duration of the exposure.

  9. The Number 1 Rule to Prevent Lasting Smoke Damage: Get Air Moving: If you want to get a head start on cleaning up your home after smoke damage, follow the cardinal rule. Get air moving. Use fans and open windows to keep air circulating throughout your home. This will prevent any remaining smoke residues from penetrating even deeper into your house and property.

  10. Thermal Fogging is an Innovative Way to Remove Smoke Odor: When in doubt, fight fire with fire. Thermal fogging is a fancy way of describing a technique that uses smoke to battle smoke. By filling a smoke damaged home with specially treated thermal fog, the bad smoke deposited by the fire can be neutralized in much the same way as the original smoke caused the damage. A professional will be able to assess whether or not thermal fogging is necessary, but itís a great way to reverse the terrible effects of smoke damage.
Al Fin comment: Owning a home is a non-trivial experience, like "owning" a child or a spouse. Constant upkeep is usually required, if not on the house then on the property. All of the insurances, taxes, and regulations involved can also be a headache. But if you are thinking about taking the leap from renting to owning, be sure to do a lot of research first. Don't get too attached to a house until you have done all the footwork and research, and are sure beyond doubt that you want to own it.

This is a buyer's market in many parts of the western world -- including the US. Take your time, choose both house and neighborhood wisely, and get a good deal.


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The Ghost Country that Poisons the World

Prevailing winds across the Pacific are pushing thousands of tons of other contaminants—including mercury, sulfates, ozone, black carbon, and desert dust—over the ocean each year. Some of this atmospheric junk settles into the cold waters of the North Pacific, but much of it eventually merges with the global air pollution pool that circumnavigates the planet. _Discover
China's growth is nothing more than a credit bubble on steroids. Cities are vacant, yet China keeps building, and building and building. _Mish_Globaleconomicanalysis
China and Environs

The amount of toxins that China dumps into its water, soil, and air, is astounding. If China were only poisoning herself -- in the frantic attempt to over-build its ghost infrastructure to nowhere -- the rest of the world could only look on in horror. But since the effects of Ghost China's poisonous activity oozes out to affect many other nations, we need to take a closer look.
These contaminants are implicated in a long list of health problems, including neurodegenerative disease, cancer, emphysema, and perhaps even pandemics like avian flu. And when wind and weather conditions are right, they reach North America within days. Dust, ozone, and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins, and mercury can be pulled to earth through atmospheric sinks that deposit it across large swaths of land.

...China in particular stands out because of its sudden role as the world’s factory, its enormous population, and the mass migration of that population to urban centers; 350 million people, equivalent to the entire U.S. population, will be moving to its cities over the next 10 years. China now emits more mercury than the United States, India, and Europe combined. “What’s different about China is the scale and speed of pollution and environmental degradation,” Turner says. “It’s like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Development there is racing far ahead of environmental regulation. “Standards in the United States have gotten tighter because we’ve learned that ever-lower levels of air pollution affect health, especially in babies and the elderly,” Jaffe says. As pollutants coming from Asia increase, though, it becomes harder to meet the stricter standards that our new laws impose.

...China’s smog-filled cities are ringed with heavy industry, metal smelters, and coal-fired power plants, all crucial to that fast-growing economy even as they spew tons of carbon, metals, gases, and soot into the air. _Much more at Discover
While China is certainly spewing more than its share of CO2, we should be much more concerned about the real pollutants gushing from China's over-revved production machine. Corrupt government officials are routinely bribed to look the other way. China's people suffer, but so do others who live farther from the source.

Why does a nation full of ghost cities, shopping malls, highways, and skyscrapers continue to push all-out for ever greater construction and production? It is likely that China's export markets will continue to shrink over time -- unless the US jettisons the Obama regime and re-institutes the rules of opportunity which made the US economy the driver of world prosperity.

The true state of affairs is China's banks are insolvent. China is building units for which there is little demand and few can afford. China will have to print money to pay for all of this malinvestment. The idea the Yuan is undervalued fails to take into consideration any of this.
The overbuilding of a toxic infrastructure by Ghost China. Just one of many important problems which the middle kingdom is thrusting upon the rest of the world.

More on China's ghost cities (via Mish)

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23 March 2011

The Ultimate High?

Have you ever wondered why governments spend many $billions every year to restrict the mental states it allows its citizens to experience, while it spends nothing at all to develop ways for its people to get truly, safely high, and reach their ultimate potential?

The ultimate high is to be the perfect version of yourself. Smarter, stronger, faster, wiser, healthier, wealthier, more mobile, with an unlimited future, a great family, and a circle of smart devoted friends that just won't quit.

There is a reason why the mind-altering drug is such a huge blockbuster business worldwide. Most people don't like who they are enough to be able to resist the opportunity for a bit of chemical (external or internal) alteration. To take a hit of this or that -- anything to boost, to blunt, to make you forget, to help you remember.

Something most people may not think about often -- being too busy getting stoned, drunk, high, or wasted. But the new movie "Limitless" may bring the idea to light for at least a few weeks.
Bradley Cooper is Eddie, a struggling writer who takes a mysterious smart drug, and unsurprisingly gets smart. Name the mental power - Analytical, memory, strategic, creative - it's suddenly all there. _SMH
But strip away all the Hollywood glitz, drama, and titillation, and the underlying reality remains inside the brain of most people you know: people want something different, something more.

The smart thing for governments would not be to restrict chemical use, but rather to develop safe, enabling recreational drugs that don't give you a hangover, or otherwise leave you less capable in the aftermath. A better drug that you can drive under the influence of, copulate in the brilliant light of, socialise at the height of your untapped wit and wisdom all night long, then sleep soundly and wake refreshed and alert.

We are not talking about the next level here, just a more rational approach to a deep-seated need of humans to explore, experiment, and go further into the mystery and potential of their own selves. Up until now, that instinct has necessarily been diverted and perverted to mostly destructive and wasteful uses. But that would not be necessary under a wiser regime. (For example, there was no DEA or FDA in the original US Constitution....)

This is certainly not about something like Soma, the drug of choice for the alpha, beta...zetas of Huxley's Brave New World. Better drugs make you better...more, not less of who you could be.

Of course there are a lot of foolish, dystopic aspects to the world we inhabit -- far beyond idiotic drug laws and policies. It is even worse if you travel to the hinterlands of China, or -- heavens forbid -- North Korea. It is the belief of Al Fin sociohistorians that a better society grows from a better substrate of inhabitants. And a better substrate of inhabitants grows from an attitude and ethic of enhancing the potential of members of society. Bottom up, and top down at the same time. But wiser all around. And smarter.

More on this topic later.


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US Assistance to Devastated Japan Impressive, Timely

Japan's government has come under intense criticism for its slow and paltry response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Northeast. The US Navy, on the other hand, has been "Johnny on the spot" with water, food, clothing, bedding, and other emergency first-response relief efforts.
When United States Navy helicopters swept down on the school in a ruined Japanese village, survivors first looked hesitantly from the windows. Then they rushed out, helping unload food, water and clothes. They clasped hands with the Americans. Some embraced them.

...Soon after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the United States military began what it calls Operation Tomodachi (Friend), one of its largest relief efforts in recent years. At present, about 20 American ships have massed off Japan’s northeastern coast, including the Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered carrier whose helicopters are busily ferrying supplies to survivors.

That relief is getting through to sometimes difficult-to-reach coastal areas devastated by the March 11 double disaster. They are also the latest showcase in the Pentagon’s efforts to use its forces to win good will for the United States abroad, a strategy that it used successfully in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami there.

...Much of what the Americans have handed out are goods taken from their own ships: extra food and blankets, and even the sailors’ own clothes.

There were stuffed toys for children, too.

To alleviate food shortages in the shelters, the Ronald Reagan sent 77,000 frozen hot dogs to a Japanese warship, which boiled them and gave them out. _NYTimes
Across the US, civilian efforts to help the victims of Japan's natural disasters have also been significant. Donations of medicines, foods, cash, and other needed goods have been flowing out from a typically generous American populace.

China's relief efforts have been rather limited in comparison, and funneled through government channels. Given China's history of poisoned food exports, the Japanese should be cautious about testing all aid from China before consuming it.

The competence and capability of the US military to assist a distressed civilian populace is considerable. The US military spends a great deal of time and money training its personnel, and providing them with quality tools to do their jobs.

Most American servicemen would far prefer to go on humanitarian missions than on wartime missions -- particularly in situations such as Japan's recent disasters.

Of course, Japan received significant aid from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and several European countries. The impulse to assist the suffering and make the world a better place is widespread among European peoples, and has been so for centuries -- since the industrial revolution and the coming of affluence. It is just that almost all of the outside aid sent to Japan had to be funneled through the Japanese government bureaucracy -- which can be unwieldy, like most civilian government bureaucracies.

The US military, on the other hand, was able to provide the necessities on a large scale at the point of need, in a timely manner. That should receive far more comment than it has gotten.

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22 March 2011

Why Do Teachers' Unions Hate Salman Khan?

Recent Salman Khan talk at TED

Watch the video and you'll get an idea why the powers-that-be in the huge $multi-billion education racket hate this unassuming self-made educator.

Imagine: A man without teaching credentials dares to use YouTube to create a free to all educational empire that hopes to move education out of the 19th century into the 21st. A man who makes teaching videos from his home closet studio -- videos which threaten the "dumbing down" culture of government education.

Unless you watch the video, then visit KhanAcademy.org to learn the details of the system, you may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Some of you may even be tempted to join the government unions with their pitch-forks and torches, marching up the hill toward Salman Khan's modest home. There have always been those with the compulsion to kill anything they can't understand. Sadly, most of them ended up in education, unions, government, the legal profession, the environmental left's dieoff.orgy movement, or the media.

But imagine if Salman Khan actually succeeds in his goal. Imagine the unleashing of the human mind into a world of knowledge, science, and technology that spiraled upward like NASA's dreams of a space-future from back in the 1960s, or Kurzweils ideas of an exponential future?

It's got to be better than the Idiocracy. Why not give it a chance?


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Bringing Biomass to Liquids and Gas to Liquids Down to Size

The Group's technology makes viable the distributed production of fuels from gas biomass, coal and waste. Microchannel processing is emerging at a time of the discovery and development of vast shale gas reserves in North America, increasing focus on the utilization of stranded and associated gas and the emergence of biomass-to-liquids (BTL) and waste-to-liquids (WTL) as a viable option for the sustainable supply of transportation fuel in the decades ahead. In addition, the growing political, geological and environmental complexity of oil exploration and production has focussed attention on the monetization of associated and stranded gas reserves and cessation of flaring, for which distributed GTL is suited, the company says. _GCC
What you see in the image above is a Velocys / Oxford Catalysts microchannel gas to liquids technology. It is an award-winning technology which promises to turn at least 1 billion boe worth of wasted flared natural gas into valuable liquid fuels, each year. Probably considerably more.

The same technology can turn biomass, coal, or any carbonaceous material or waste into valuable liquid fuels. Better yet, Oxford Catalysts is making progress in turning itself from a research group into a commercial company.
The Oxford Catalysts Group has raised £21 million (US$34 million) before expenses from the conditional placing of 26,250,000 new shares, which will be used to accelerate its ongoing transition from a research and development organization to a commercial product company. In particular, additional staff will be hired to support its commercial and manufacturing operation, the Group’s supply chain capabilities will be bolstered and investments will made in development and testing infrastructure.

This is the latest step in the Oxford Catalysts Group’s drive to commercialize its technology for the production of synthetic fuels from conventional fossil fuels and renewable sources such as biowaste, primarily through its microchannel process technology platform which is able to accelerate chemical reactions by 10- to 1000-fold. As a result, microchannel Fischer Tropsch (FT) processes can operate economically when producing just 500 barrels per day of oil equivalent (boe) from a wide variety of carbon-containing wastes, while achieving greater productivities than for conventional FT reactors (earlier post). _GCC

An extra billion boe per year from otherwise-flared natural gas is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the potential for on-site gtl, btl, and ctl which small portable microchannel-FT units would provide. The rules for fuels are about to change. Peak oil panic will then go the way of the dinosaurs and Y2K willies.
Don't Fear Peak Oil

As you can see, the world is not exactly running out of oil reserves. In fact with amazing breakthroughs in the refining of bitumens from oil sands, global economically recoverable oil reserves are due for another big jump.

All the same, wise people expand their options as much as they feel they need to and can do. See more developments in energy at Al Fin Energy.

This article was published earlier at Al Fin, the Next Level

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21 March 2011

Update on Fukushima Reactors: Situation Stabilising

The Seeker Blog provides a good overview of recent updates on the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation. Excerpt below includes links and a useful image:

In the associated WNN report, is the following IAEA graph of unit 5, 6 fuel pond temperatures.

At units 1 and 2, external power has been restored. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it would restore functions in the central control room shared by the units so that accurate readings could again be taken from the reactor system. Next, workers will check the condition of the water supply systems to the reactor and the used fuel pond. With luck these will be able to go back into operation as they had been immediately after the earthquake on 11 March.

External power for units 3 and 4 should be in place ‘in a few days’ time’, said Tepco.

(…) Despite contradictory comments by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to US politicians and media, most observers in nuclear industry and regulation consider the measures taken by Japanese authorities to be prudent and appropriate.

At the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering site, the 20 March status update is encouraging. Included in the report was a note on the actual tsunami heights at the reactor sites:

The Fukushima power plants were required by regulators to withstand a certain height of tsunami. At the Daiichi plant the design basis was 5.7 metres and at Daini this was 5.2 metres.

Tepco has now released tentative assessments of the scale of the tsunami putting it at over 10 metres at Daiichi and over 12 metres at Dainii.

Offsite grid power has been brought to the Daiichi site, and is in the process of connection to each reactors equipment.

Restoration of Grid

Progress has been achieved in restoring external power to the nuclear power plant, although it remains uncertain when full power will be available to all reactors. Off-site electrical power has been connected to an auxiliary transformer and distribution panels at Unit 2. Work continues toward energizing specific equipment within Unit 2.

Here’s an excerpt on radiation measurements:

Radiation levels near Fukushima Daiichi and beyond have elevated since the reactor damage began. However, dose rates in Tokyo and other areas outside the 30-kilometre zone remain below levels which would require any protective action. In other words they are not dangerous to human health.


21 March 2011 update from Brave New Climate blog

IAEA 20 March update on Japan Earthquake

Status report from FEPC of Japan (English)

Carnival of Nuclear Energy #44 at CoolHandNuke deals with Fukushima (via BrianWang)

The situation in Japan points out the need for improvement in backup systems and power supplies for nuclear power plants in the face of overwhelming natural disasters. At the same time, it highlights the relative safety of even 30-year-old reactor designs.

Now if only Obama's NRC would get off its pompous, lazy ass and help the US (and the world) move into a newer, safer age of nuclear power by certifying newer, safer reactor designs.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy

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19 March 2011

Most People are too Stupid to Understand Where this Leads, But . . .

....Just in case you are not too stupid, you may wish to take some things into account in planning for your future.

Populations of Europe, North America, Oceania, and East Asia are aging rapidly. Such aging brings about certain unavoidable costs to societies.

One of the most significant financial problems that countries will face in the coming decades is the amount they will spend to support the elderly. This will be exacerbated by increased debt-to-GDP ratios in most of the 49 countries where old age costs will be the highest percentage of GDP, according to the Standard & Poor’s Global Aging Report PDF. Of the 49 countries, 32 are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and 17 are large, emerging market nations.

The Standard & Poor’s Global Aging report emphasizes: “No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances, and policy making as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging. The problem has been long observed and is well understood.” The analysis adds, “U.N. figures show the proportion of the world’s population aged over 65 is set to more than double by 2050, to 16.2% from 7.6% currently.” _Source

The higher the educational levels and IQs of a given society, the faster it is tending to age. And within advanced societies, it is the higher IQ segments -- the smart fractions -- which are aging and disappearing most quickly. In terms of national and global skills resources -- human capital -- these trends are quite ominous. Not only will the costs of pensions, elderly medical care, long term elderly care, and unemployment increase exponentially with aging, but the remaining human capital -- people who keep the wheels of commerce and industry rolling -- is likely to shrink at an increasing rate as well. Put another way, the people who keep food on the table and keep the lights on, are going away at the same time that the need for them will grow greater.
In Korea, farmers over age 60 accounted for fully 55.4 percent of the country's total farming population. Rising costs of aging and impending skills shortages in Germany threaten the nation's shaky prosperity. Australia continues to experience critical shortages in skilled trades relating to its most important industries.

People with important skills in energy, industry, construction, the infrastructure of IT, and other central skills in a high-tech society, are nearing retirement age, without sufficient replacements having been trained.

The irreversibility of these trends is what is so hard for many to grasp, despite the danger they represent to the future. Governments which are incapable of making difficult decisions will allow these trends to shape a dead-end future, without ever having explained to an increasingly dumbed-down constituency what is happening to them.

The skyrocketing costs of pensions, health care benefits, unemployment, disability, and a host of other entitlements, is very real and important. But not nearly so important as the loss of the human capital which underlies the engines of industrial and agricultural production, and the market mechanisms of distribution.

The "singularity" is not the answer, except as a sort of escapist fantasy preventing more imaginative humans from working out solutions to real problems. Clinging to the security of government unions, academic tenure, or other group-thinking organisations will likewise only get you so far. In fact, the early retirement ages found among government union workers etc. only accelerates the descent into irreversible debt and demographic decline.

Most people are far too stupid to even suspect that a problem exists. But instead of a single problem, multiple interlocking problems are tied into the ongoing demographic transition. The consequences of some of them are extremely dire.

What to do?

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18 March 2011

Recent Study Relating IQ/Human /Capital to per capita GDP

Update: Here is a handy per capita GDP Predictor, which provides a 0.97 r correlation (!) between its predictions and the actual GDP numbers, using national IQ and an economic freedom metric (plus "tweaks") as input. (via Brian Wang) Methodology is provided at the link.

Heiner Rindermann, of the Chemnitz University of Technology, has a study being published in the upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study looks at 90 countries, correlating the intelligence of the populations with the per capita GDP -- in an attempt to understand the relationship of human capital to national economic well-being.
The researchers collected information on 90 countries, including far-off lands from the U.S. to New Zealand and Colombia to Kazakhstan. They also collected data on the country’s excellence in science and technology—the number of patents granted per person and how many Nobel Prizes the country’s people had won in science, for example.

They found that intelligence made a difference in gross domestic product. For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.

.... “In other words, it’s the ability of a person to solve a problem in the most efficient way—not with violence, but by thinking,” Rindermann says. He wrote the new study with James Thompson of University College London. _PsychologicalScience_via_NextBigFuture
Many factors are involved in the determination of national prosperity, including economic freedom, rule of law, property rights, and trust. But study after study appear to indicate that cognitive ability is as important as the other factors. In fact, certain minimum levels of average cognitive ability may be necessary for some of the other important factors to be reliably present.
Here is more on that topic by Rindermann in an abstract taken from an earlier (2007) study:
. It is shown that in the second half of the 20th century, education and intelligence had a strong positive impact on democracy, rule of law and political liberty independent from wealth (GDP) and chosen country sample. One possible mediator of these relationships is the attainment of higher stages of moral judgment fostered by cognitive ability, which is necessary for the function of democratic rules in society. The other mediators for citizens as well as for leaders could be the increased competence and willingness to process and seek information necessary for political decisions due to greater cognitive ability. There are also weaker and less stable reverse effects of the rule of law and political freedom on cognitive ability. _ScienceDirect

It is crucial for the future of humanity that the genetic fraction of the underpinnings of differences in average population intelligence (see map) not be denied or downgraded. Any attempts to explain all or most of the differences in population average IQ by nutritional, educational, or other environmental factors without including the genetic component, is counter-productive for future generations. Nutrition, education, and environmental intellectual enrichment of all kinds are all important -- but not sufficient for the goals of any philanthropic humanist worth the description.

The best hope for long-term improvement in average human intelligence exists within a broadly applied, advanced genetics. Such a program is likely to result in smaller IQ and EF gaps between populations -- proportionally -- than at present. The only thing to be achieved by following a politically correct path of HBD denial, is the continued and inexorable descent into a dysgenic Idiocracy.

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17 March 2011

King Obama? It Has a Certain Ring to It!

The US is in desperate economic straits. Under the Obama administration, deficits are rising at record rates, while unemployment continues to eat away at the public's sense of well-being and confidence. Clearly something drastic must be done before the entire nation is sold into slavery, but what?
Elect Obama King!
Last night Col. Ralph Peters was on Bill O'Reilly's show, talking about Libya. Peters thinks we should act on behalf of the rebels there, but he expressed skepticism that President Obama will ever do anything. "Obama loves the idea of being President," Peters said, "but he can't make a decision."

I think there is a lot of truth to that, even in domestic policy, where Obama has passively deferred to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on all legislative matters. One can debate whether action is appropriate in Libya or not, but Peters is certainly right when it comes to foreign policy--it is a safe bet that Obama will do nothing, because doing something would require a decision.

That got me thinking: Obama enjoys being president, and he especially treasures the symbolic significance of being the first African-American president. That's how his supporters feel, too. I haven't heard anyone defend his actual performance in a long time, but there is still widespread satisfaction with the symbolic value of his presidency. So why don't we make him king? If being the first African-American president has symbolic value, just think what it would mean for the first King of the United States to be African-American! Plus, Michelle would be a queen and Malia and Sasha would be princesses. How cool would that be?

....The king would have no duties beyond golf, so Obama would be perfect for the job. Our king would need a place to live, of course--we need to coax Obama out of the White House--so I'm thinking one of those big houses in Newport, Rhode Island would be ideal. Safely out of the way.

....we could hold a special election and choose a real president.....On no account would our new constitutional arrangement allow Joe Biden to succeed Obama. He would make a terrific viceroy, or possibly court jester.

Sure, it seems like a radical solution. But consider the alternative. The more I think about it, the better I like it: Obama for King! _Powerlineblog
Besides playing golf, King Obama can be official spokesperson for the official movement to save the environment. The promotion of magic solar energy beans, in particular, would suit the King's persuasive persona and trustworthy demeanour. Saving the entire world as King has got to beat destroying the world's sole superpower, as a mere president.

Let's be honest about Mr. Obama's prospects for doing any type of responsible work at all in his life, on his own. Such prospects are essentially non-existent -- a point that should have been clear well before the 2008 US elections. But we will let that point slide for now.

The important thing is to try to salvage as much as we can from the ongoing debacle popularly known as the Obama regime. It seems clear that the only way to do that is to appoint -- or elect -- Barack Obama King! Then elect a real president who can build the type of tough-love, hard-decision-making US government that is needed.

"President for life" has an unfortunate third worldish sound to it, while "King for life" sounds perfectly natural and normal. As king, Obama would not have to stand for re-election every 4 years like a commoner. And just imagine . . . Queen Michelle . . . for real.

Published earlier at abu al-fin


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16 March 2011

Centripetal China in Chaos

ChinaHardLanding CSMonitor

Fewer people may be eyeing China recently, in light of the unrest in Arab countries and the devastating natural disasters and aftermath in Japan. Yet China holds a big piece of the puzzle, as to how the future will turn out. Best not to forget it.

For example, a fascinating method of financing a commodities and real estate boom:
...companies importing copper are indeed buying it on deferred payment terms. For example, 1,000 tonnes of copper bought using a 180-day LC means the companies don’t have to pay the bank issuing the LC for 180 days after the shipment arrives in China.

During that time, though, the copper can be pledged as collateral for cash — and the funds raised are free to be invested any which way the company wishes.

As our source points out, with real estate and commodities having gained 20 to 30 per cent, or more, in some six-month periods, this could have been an extremely profitable activity in the last couple of years. _FT
Western investors may well be lured in by outward signs of economic growth which are actually based upon shifty loan schemes resembling something Bernie Madoff might have dreamed up. When all the loose ends of this "infrastructure to nowhere" are pulled in, what will be left?
....China's export-led economy is due for a hard landing. Instead of 9.8 percent, its growth in the fourth quarter of 2010, China's GDP could decline toward a recessionary 6 percent. That will slow domestic job growth, choke off the expansion in the rest of Asia, and rattle investors around the world.

It also will no doubt burst the global commodity bubble, which would be bad news for commodity exporters, ranging from Brazil and Canada to Australia and New Zealand.

A hard landing in China is very likely for two reasons. For one, Beijing's policy tools are crude. In the wake of a real estate bubble, a jump in consumer inflation from negative territory in 2009 to 4.9 percent in January 2011, and a rise in food prices to a politically untenable 10.3 percent, China has slammed on the brakes. Eight times since January 2010, the central bank has raised reserve requirements – a sledgehammer tool the Federal Reserve here hasn't used in decades.

Another reason for a hard landing: In a part command/part market-driven economy like China's, any economic policy is hard to enact. _CSMonitor
Even the best of markets will behave chaotically from time to time, and require painful corrections. But China's economy is even less of a market economy than that of the US. Too much relies upon top-heavy dictates based upon little more than educated guesses, tainted by nationalistic and ideologic bias. The "Knowledge Problem" always has the last laugh.

It is always good to look at how power is distributed in a society, before one attempts to predict the society's future:
Key in the survival of political systems is not democracy in the western sense but a diffusion of power over generations, a leadership that reacts to popular concerns, and room for upward socio-economic mobility. China has all of those.

Unlike in the Middle East, where strongmen and family dynasties who have ruled for decades on end have become the focal points of anger, there has been remarkable diffusion of power in China. None of the powerful families, like those of past leaders Deng Xiaoping, Ye Jianying, or Chen Yun, have had offsprings promoted above a certain rank in the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

That ranking is far more important than titles like Vice Premier or Minister. For instance, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai during the Mao era was ranked at number seven in the Party hierarchy in the 1970s. The offspring of political figures mostly enter business, as there is more money and personal freedom there. _ShaunRein
Rein's insight is key. In a "one-child society" such as mainland China's, wealth and power do not diffuse and propagate through the generations in the same way as they do in societies with extended families -- aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, etc. The urge to wealth and power tend to take on a sense of immediacy and urgency which may be partially sublimated and diluted in societies which provide a greater sense of immortality through one's extended progeny.

Nationalism becomes more prominent as well, which in the face of a growing "male dominant society," could easily lead to international frictions and more frequent brushfire wars and conflicts -- in an attempt to diffuse the growing bottom-up pressure from a male "youth bulge."

The speculative fever which has driven China's economy since the collapse of its export markets in 2008, is built upon multiple inter-locking layers of corruption at most levels of government -- but particularly at regional and local levels. National leadership tends to look the other way as long as economic numbers look good, and as long as China's military and technological strengths appear to grow. Everything else is built upon the economic numbers, at this point.

Never forget that China -- like the late USSR -- is an empire, comprising multiple ethnic regions and relying upon the stripping the resources of multiple client states in the region. Also never forget that China's recent economic, technological, and military resurgence was largely fueled by massive outside investment, which continues throughout the last few years of global financial and economic turmoil. Never forget that China's wealth is incredibly lopsided demographically and geographically. China's historical tendency to break apart into warring centres of power should never leave one's mind when contemplating possible fates of the middle kingdom.


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14 March 2011

Better Genes, Better Brains

Better brains tend to run in families. The crucial brain determinants of life success -- IQ and Executive funtion -- are between 60% and 80% heritable. Exciting new tools for studying the genomics of the brain, such as the Allen Human Brain Map (read more here), are being used in conjunction with imaging tools such as diffusion tensor imaging, to study the individual nature of how human brains manifest underlying genomes.

A recent study from Australia looks at how genetics influences the efficiency of how human brains are wired -- and how well they work.
“Some brains are wired better than others, and 60% of the differences can be explained by genetic factors,” said lead author Alex Fornito from the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Melbourne. “The novelty is that we now have new methods to identify different aspects of brain network organisation. Previously it was very difficult to try and map these connections.”

...“We found some of the strongest effects in the prefrontal cortex, where up to 80% of the differences between people were attributable to genes. The prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in planning, strategic thinking, decision-making and memory.”

Previous work has shown that people with more efficient brain connections score higher on tests of intelligence, and that brain network cost-efficiency is reduced in people with schizophrenia, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. _Cosmos

Finding the links between genes and intelligence, or between genes and impulse control, requires extensive research and great deal of time. At the US NIMH, the Functional Neurogenomics Program is dedicated to teasing out the numerous connections between the genome and all aspects of brain function. Likewise, in research centers around the world, scientists are hard at work discovering how differences in our genes create differences in our brains, which create differences in the worlds which each of us experiences.

This is not merely an academic problem. The endeavour holds keys to unlocking many of the most vexing problems of human societies worldwide.

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13 March 2011

What Compelled 20+ Black Men to Rape One 11 year old Girl?

Gang Rape Suspects

The gang rape allegedly occurred months ago, but is just now hitting the news more widely, due to attempts by NY Times reporters and black activists to make the accused into victims, and the 11 yo victim into the perpetrator.

Steve Sailer takes the NYTimes to task for its one-sided coverage of the story. And for good reason. More from Jezebel.com, which does a better job of covering the story than the NYTimes!
In December, police learned of the assault when an elementary school student told a teacher about a cellphone video featuring one of her classmates. Authorities say that on November 28, the girl was offered a ride by a 19-year-old who took her to his house, then ordered her to take her clothes off, saying she's be beaten if she didn't. She was raped by several men and boys, then moved to the trailer where more assaults occurred as the attackers took cellphone videos and photographs.

The New York Times published a story today about how the case has torn apart the town, and the paper chooses to focus on the plight of the accused men. The author says the town is wondering "how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?" as if they were tricked into gang raping a child. Then there's this quote:
"It's just destroyed our community," said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives."
Though, of course, the accused are innocent until proven guilty, it's hard to believe that anyone's first concern would be about how the men will live with what they did. It's even more incredible that the Times decided to include the quote in the story, but it doesn't end there. _Jezebel

Black men commit far more violent crime than men of other races, although the reasons for this difference are not entirely clear. Some attribute the differences to hormonal levels, other focus on low intelligence levels. Al Fin sociologists feel that "a culture of resentment" running rampant inside black communities and cultures is at least partially responsible for high crime rates among black men.

One additional factor which must be discussed is the issue of "impulse control", one part of pre-frontal lobe "executive function." Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi published a detailed look at the relationship between impulse control and crime. It should be noted that executive function -- like IQ -- is highly heritable. It should also be noted that the developmental window for optimising executive function through training, is open between the ages of roughly 4 to 8 years of age. In communities where the illegitimacy rate is roughly 70%, early childhood training is likely to be poor to non-existent.

Here's a quick look at one particular hormone, testosterone:
Take testosterone in a prison. Dabbs' team found that criminal violence and aggressive dominance among women in prison is linked to higher levels of testosterone. An earlier study of male inmates found testosterone levels to be highest among male inmates convicted of violent crimes such as rape, murder and assault. Variables such as age, social factors and other hormones were seen as important in these studies.

Take testosterone and 'delinquency'. Comparing college students with men and women of similar age in a "delinquent urban subculture" (identified as skinheads, bouncers, bartenders, strippers), "delinquents" had higher testosterone levels than college students. (Personally, boxing the range of research subjects into a "delinquent urban subculture" sounds questionable, but anyway...)

Take testosterone in the workplace. Dabbs' team examined the salivary testosterone in seven vocation groups of men, as well as an unemployed group. They found that actors and footy players had higher levels than religious ministers. Dabbs related testosterone to dominance and antisocial tendencies, which in turn, he suggests, effect vocational preferences in subtle ways. Other studies reveal traditional 'white collar' workers possess lower testosterone than traditional 'blue collar' workers. _abc.net
Many more factors are involved, and free testosterone is not the only androgenic hormone in circulation. In addition, androgenic receptors come in different types, and different receptor types may influence behavioural reaction to any given testosterone level differently.

We know from examples such as the Wichita Massacre and the Knoxville Horror, that there is almost certainly an element of racial hatred involved when such gang rapes are combined with murder. Young women students who are raped and murdered on and near college campuses in American cities are often the victim of whatever combination of racial hatred, hormonal imbalance, low impulse control, and low intelligence which may drive young black male crime.

In the case of the young Texas girl, at least she was not murdered. I am personally more concerned about her future welfare than that of the rapists. It is true, however that society is going to have to live with these bad boys for many years. So it would be best for society to stop covering up this type of crime, stop making excuses for the perpetrators, and get to the bottom of what is driving this all-too-common type of interracial crime.

More: Here is the NYTimes story about the gang rape, published about 3 months after the assault, written more like a PC cover-up than a belated news report. Contrast this excuse-making "coverage" with the unrelenting attacks by the NYT against the Duke lacrosse team players who were later found innocent of all charges against them.

Update -- 14March2011 -- Meanwhile in Sweden: 20 Muslim Immigrants Gang Rape 11 yo Swedish Girl and Gang Rape and Genocide in Cote d'Ivoire and on it goes in ghetto after township after shanty town

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