29 February 2012

English Speaking Nations Well Positioned Demographically ....

Wiki Anglosphere

If demography is destiny, then the Anglospheric nations appear to be well positioned for the next few decades.
Between 1980 and 2010, the U.S., Canada, and Australia saw big population surges: the U.S.’s expanded by 75 million, to more than 300 million; Canada’s nearly doubled, from 18 million to 34 million; and Australia’s increased from 13 million to 22 million. By contrast, in some European countries, such as Germany, population has remained stagnant, while Russia and Japan have watched their populations begin to shrink.

...Germany already has 33 elderly people for every 100 of working age—up from only 21 in 1985. By 2030, this figure will rise to 48, meaning that there will be barely two working Germans per retiree. The numbers are even worse in Japan, which currently has 35 seniors per 100 working-age people, a dramatic change from 1985, when the country had just 15. By 2030, the ratio is expected to rise to 53 per 100. _CityJournal
Other countries, such as Brazil and Iran, face similar scenarios. These countries, without social safety nets of the kinds developed in Europe or Japan, may get old before they can get rich.

These figures will have an impact on the growth of the global workforce. Between 2000 and 2050, for example, the U.S. workforce is projected to grow by 37 percent, while China’s shrinks by 10 percent, the EU’s decreases by 21 percent, and, most strikingly, Japan’s falls by as much as 40 percent.

In this respect, immigration presents the most important long-term advantage for the Anglosphere, which has excelled at incorporating citizens from other cultures. A remarkable 14 million people immigrated to Anglosphere countries over the last decade. _CityJournal
It’s indisputable that the Anglosphere no longer enjoys the overwhelming global dominance that it once had. What was once a globe-spanning empire is now best understood as a union of language, culture, and shared values. Yet what declinists overlook is that despite its current economic problems, the Anglosphere’s fundamental assets—economic, political, demographic, and cultural—are likely to drive its continued global leadership. The Anglosphere future is brighter than commonly believed. _CityJournal
But beyond mere demographics and current economic rankings, the Anglosphere is sitting on a tonne of energy -- which can be used to provide a bridge between the hydrocarbon age and the nuclear / electrical age.
...the US, Canada and Britain, are re-appraising domestic energy policies to take advantage of vast hydrocarbon resources; although President Obama is certainly doing his best to slow down the impact fossil fuels could have on the US domestic economy.

The impact of US shale gas – and prospectively shale oil – on domestic energy prices and in pegging back global prices, has already been nothing short of a revolution. Canada is not hanging around waiting for its southern neighbor to re-think its Keystone Pipeline strategy, but is already looking to sell much of its vast oil sands resource on the Asian market. Both the US and Canadian markets have also seen significant investment in their domestic energy markets, not least from cash-rich Chinese energy companies.

In Britain, North Sea oil and gas is a resource that just refuses to quit. Indeed, inward investment into Britain’s North Sea energy industries for 2012 already stands at a record breaking £7.5 billion. But Britain now appears to have a world class shale gas resource that could match, or even eclipse, its entire North Sea resource. Add to this the fact that oil prospects in the Falklands Basin are set to triple the country’s reserves, and Britain’s commitment to developing domestic resources leaves the rest of Europe cold (perhaps literally). _EnergyTribune
Meanwhile, Australia has significant supplies of coal and the world's largest resource of uranium.

In many ways, the English language is the Anglosphere's greatest resource, providing a common economic, cultural, and scientific link for the global machine.

Of course, politics and bloated governments are the weakest link, as always. Corrupt rent seeking bureaucrats, politicians, lobbies, and hangers-on, are always a threat to a prosperous future. Witness the US Obama administration and its policy of energy starvation, for example. If not for the persistence of a few stubborn entrepreneurs in the shale energy game, energy prices in the US would be in the stratosphere -- exactly where Obama had planned for them to be.

Fortunately, the bellicose crown prince of dysfunctional government has been forced to backtrack on several of his anti-energy stances. Not nearly far enough, but if the pompous monarch of arrogant ineptitude can be unseated in November, a great deal of promise can still be salvaged for the US and Anglospheric future.

Governments in Australia and the UK have pushed for similarly self-destructive energy policies, and have been forced to backtrack to variable degrees, as well. Canada's provincial governments are quite a mixed bag, but the federal government appears to be relatively pro-energy for now.

The most important purpose of the Anglosphere is to provide a stable environment for the evolution of next level humans. Once that transition moves into a self-sustaining mode, things will begin happening so quickly that ordinary political and governmental classifications will no longer signify to any great extent. But in the meantime, a significant stability and relative prosperity will be very important.

More: An Australian look at the death of peak oil

California's Monterey shale may contain 500 billion barrels of shale oil crude. North Dakota's Bakken is likely to contain a similar amount.

The US shale gas explosion produced so much natural gas that it resulted in a methane glut and a price slump for methane in the US, and we are beginning to see the same in Canada. Will the same thing happen in the UK? Or in Australia, due to coal seam methane? Abundant energy is crucial for industrial production and commercial activity. Let us hope that the people of the Anglosphere never allow their politicians to do what Obama, Rudd, and Cameron were apparently trying to do -- shut down fossil fuels and starve their nations of energy.

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28 February 2012

"What's Too Painful to Remember We Simply Choose to Forget"

Misty Water-Colored Memories.... Image Credit: Wired

Every now and then, most of us are stunned by powerful memories of our past. Particular memories may even have the power to bring us to our knees, unexpectedly, repeatedly. If you could erase those memories, would you "simply choose" to do so?
1. Select Memory 2. Intense Recall 3. Nuke Memory 4. Spotless Mind

Scientists are beginning to learn enough about human memories to consider the possibility of developing routine procedures which would allow the selective forgetting of painful memories. In the case of persons with disabling PTSD, or the inability to grow out of a deep grief state, such a procedure might make sense. But what about forgetting a painful divorce or child custody battle? Would you simply choose to forget the time you got drunk at a party and pissed all over your boss's rose garden?

Because memories are mental constructs involving several areas of the brain, they contain a "target of opportunity" for anyone who is looking to obliterate a memory.
When we experience a traumatic event, it gets remembered in two separate ways. The first memory is the event itself, that cinematic scene we can replay at will. The second memory, however, consists entirely of the emotion, the negative feelings triggered by what happened. Every memory is actually kept in many different parts of the brain. Memories of negative emotions, for instance, are stored in the amygdala, an almond-shaped area in the center of the brain. (Patients who have suffered damage to the amygdala are incapable of remembering fear.) By contrast, all the relevant details that comprise the scene are kept in various sensory areas—visual elements in the visual cortex, auditory elements in the auditory cortex, and so on. That filing system means that different aspects can be influenced independently by reconsolidation.

The larger lesson is that because our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content. _Jonah Lehrer
Interfering with specific mechanisms involved in putting memories back together again during recall, can actually prevent the memory from re-forming in consciousness.

The current procedures are quite crude, and not always easily replicable -- even in the lab. But the theory is sound, and enough good results have been published to show that there is a way forward if we choose to pursue it.

But would you choose? And if so, what?

Bonus: A brief video primer on how the brain creates and deciphers mood.

One might see a common theme where the brain assembles moods, memories, thoughts, and perceptions using input from several brain regions at once. If one could sit back and observe all of this happening -- in oneself and in others -- the simple understanding of the dynamic medley of neural processes might well allow a deeper acceptance of human flaws and shortcomings.

On the other hand, for would-be dictators, understanding how the brain works provides powerful tools of manipulation and control.

Dictators and would-be dictators are dangerous people. We simply need to be sure that we and those we care about are even more so.

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27 February 2012

A Policy of Energy Starvation in Germany: A Cautionary Tale

Last spring, Chancellor Angela Merkel set Germany on course to eliminate nuclear power in favor of renewable energy sources. Now, though, several industries are suffering as electricity prices rapidly rise. Many companies are having to close factories or move abroad. _Spiegel
When governments embrace the green fantasy, their economies inevitably suffer. Germany's government went even more deeply into energy starvation than US President Obama's government. Germany actually closed its cleanest and most reliable source of electric power: nuclear plants.
Since Chancellor Angela Merkel's government abruptly decided to phase out nuclear energy last spring in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the situation for industries that consume a lot of electricity has become much more tenuous.

Energy prices are rising and the risk of power outages is growing. But the urgently needed expansion of the grid, as well as the development of replacement power plants and renewable energy sources is progressing very slowly. A growing number of economic experts, business executives and union leaders are putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of Merkel's coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). The government, they say, has expedited de-industrialization.

The energy supply is now "the top risk for Germany as a location for business," says Hans Heinrich Driftmann, president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK). "One has to be concerned in Germany about the cost of electricity," warns European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. And Bernd Kalwa, a member of the general works council at ThyssenKrupp, says heatedly: "Some 5,000 jobs are in jeopardy within our company alone, because an irresponsible energy policy is being pursued in Düsseldorf and Berlin."

...There is no sign yet of the green economic miracle that the federal government promised would accompany Germany's new energy strategy. On the contrary, many manufacturers of wind turbines and solar panels complain that business is bad and are cutting jobs. Some solar companies have already gone out of business. The environmental sector faces a number of problems, especially -- and ironically -- those stemming from high energy prices.

...the immediate shutdown of seven nuclear power plants last March is affecting supply, as the Krefeld example shows. The steel mill requires massive amounts of electricity to produce stainless steel, used in such products as sinks and auto bodies. The metal is heated to more than 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,912 degrees Fahrenheit) in giant furnaces. A single smelter consumes about as much energy in an hour as 10 single-family homes in an entire year. Electricity makes up a fifth of the mill's total costs, says Harald Behmenburg, the plant manager.

The price of electricity is moving in only one direction: steeply up. For the Krefeld plant, the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity has tripled since 2000.

And there is no end in sight. When Merkel's new energy policy was introduced last year, says plant manager Behmenburg, planning for the future became virtually impossible. Behmenburg says that it is impossible now to know what will happen to the supply situation and the price of electricity in the coming years. The mill, steeped in tradition, didn't stand a chance of surviving, he says.

..."The promotion of renewable energy has led to substantial displacement effects on employment in the conventional energy production sectors, as well as in downstream industries that are particularly energy-intensive," concludes the report on a conference held at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research last year. The political opposition has also recognized the importance of the issue. Some believe that the green economy is everything, warns Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). "But they forget that they can't make a wind turbine without steel, plastic, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering."

It is equally important to stabilize the power grid as quickly as possible to prevent blackouts from occurring. Until now, the reliability of the German electricity supply was seen as a significant advantage for doing business in the country. But the loss of several nuclear power plants, coupled with the unpredictability of electricity from wind and solar sources, has changed the situation. _Spiegel
Germany's ongoing demographic decline will only be made worse by such abysmally irresponsible policies as the current energy starvation policy. Shutting down reliable sources of large scale power makes a wide range of important industries instantly untenable. The inevitable loss of industry and jobs is accompanied by a tragic loss of opportunity at all levels of society.

US president Obama has embarked upon a similar path to green oblivion, but fortunately for the US, he has been more tentative and cautious than Germany has been. Obama has also been lucky, in that his government has been unable to shut down oil & gas fracking of tight hydrocarbons. As a result of Obama's fortunate failure to shut down the North American shale bonanza, the US economy is still able to tread water.

But Obama has shut down several coal energy plants -- de-stabilising the power grid to a small but significant degree. He has delayed the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, thus unnecessarily reducing global supplies of crude. Future US nuclear development under Obama and NRC chairman Jaczko has been set back many years. But at least they have not shut down the crucial existing nuclear plants. Not yet.

Extra Bonus: Here is a summary of a recent set of 5 future scenarios for the year 2050, from the Deutsche Post DHL. Al Fin futurists find it fascinating that the German futurists failed to include the ongoing demographic decline in the German welfare state, or the ominous consequences of German green policies such as carbon hysteria and anti-nuclear hysteria.

It is possible that the scars from 1930s and 1940s Nazism, and from Communist dysfunction in the East, have not yet healed cleanly in the national psyche of Germany. Wiser Germans had best find a solution quickly, because it is the dysfunctional German psyche that is at the root of the nation's problems.

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26 February 2012

A Word About Oil Prices

There is a great deal of discussion about why global oil markets are engaged in yet another price feeding frenzy. Some claim it is simply supply and demand. Others point out that both "supply" and "demand" can be manipulated in many ways. Others point to international tensions in the middle east, particularly Iran. Yet others point to Wall Street and blame the bankers. And not just a few in the US are pointing fingers at Barack Obama's broad agenda of energy starvation as being a significant factor in price increases. But where does the truth "lie?"
A speculator purchasing vast futures at higher than the current market price can cause oil producers to horde their commodity in the hopes they'll be able to sell it later on at the future price. This drives prices up in reality -- both future and present prices -- due to the decreased amount of oil currently available on the market.

Investment firms that can influence the oil futures market stand to make a lot; oil companies that both produce the commodity and drive prices up of their product up through oil futures derivatives stand to make even more. Investigations into the unregulated oil futures exchanges turned up major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. But it also revealed energy producers like Vitol, a Swiss company that owned 11 percent of the oil futures contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange alone [source: Washington Post].

As a result of speculation among these and other major players, an estimated 60 percent of the price of oil per barrel was added; a $100 barrel of oil, in reality, should cost $40 [source: Engdahl]. And despite having an agency created to prevent just such speculative price inflation, by the time oil prices skyrocketed, the government had made a paper tiger out of it. _HSW: Oil Speculation and Oil Prices
Inflation Adjusted Crude Oil Prices

As you can see from recent history, oil price shocks are nothing new to global markets. In fact, as you can see from the chart above, oil prices are not yet back to last April's (2011) highs -- the most recent price scare.

What about oil futures and oil prices? Many people suggest that if oil futures speculators do not take delivery of oil contracts, that they cannot influence the real price of oil. But that is not necessarily the case:
A speculator betting on a single futures contract will have no effect on the market. A speculator with a sizable amount of capital to put to work however, can purchase a stake that is sizable enough to sway the market, and is considered the major factor in how oil futures raise prices.

As speculators purchase on rumor rather than fact, a speculator purchasing a large amount of futures at a price that is higher than the market value of oil currently can lead to the hoarding of the commodity by producers in the hopes that the commodity can be sold for a higher price in the future.

As the supply of oil is reduced by these actions on the part of the producer, this leads to a realized increase in the price of the commodity both in the present as well as the future. An investment firm as well as oil producers stand to make a huge profit, as an estimated 60% of oil’s per barrel price is the result of speculation on the part of investment firms and other major players. _HowtoTradeStocks
Large scale, coordinated oil speculation would appear to be one way in which "oil demand" can be manipulated so as to drive up prices. There are several other ways in which this can be done, and we will look at some of those in later postings.

Those who think that oil speculators do not actually take delivery of oil may be in for a bit of a shock to discover that speculators have periodically stockpiled oil -- then strategically released stockpiles -- for some time.
The oil-storage trade is a trading strategy where oil tank owners and companies that lease storage buy oil for immediate delivery and hold it in their storage tanks, then sell contracts for future delivery at a higher price. When delivery dates approach, they close out existing contracts and sell new ones for future delivery of the same oil. The oil never moves out of storage. Trading in this fashion is only successful if the forward market is in "contango", that is if the price of oil in the future also known as forward prices are higher than current prices or spot prices. Storing oil became big business in 2008 and 2009,[1] with many participants—including Wall Street giants, such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, or Citicorp—turning sizeable profits simply by sitting on tanks of oil.[2]

It has been estimated that one in twelve of the largest oil tankers are being used for the storage, rather than transportation of oil,[3] and that if lined up end to end, the tankers would stretch out for 26 miles. _Wikipedia
The actual proportion of tankers and oil depots used for speculative purposes is likely to fluctuate over time, according to prices and price-manipulating opportunities.

There is a great deal riding on oil prices. Hedge funds, pension funds, university endowments, foundations, big money NGOs, and more, are betting on oil prices going higher. The risk involved is significant, but with the deteriorating value of the dollar and the general stagnation in global economies, opportunities for significant returns on investment seem to be few and far between, the past few years.

While many analysts are scratching their heads as to how oil prices could increase in the absence of any clear increase in natural (as opposed to artificial) demand, Al Fin energy analysts believe that several concurrent factors are in play:

  1. Russia is far more than a bystander in the current price runup More here

    International tensions tend to create a "defensive demand," a type of artificial demand which involves stockpiling oil in anticipation of future reductions in supply. Russia is best situated of all nations to both ramp up international tensions -- either directly or via proxies -- then to profit in several ways from a runup in energy prices.
  2. OPEC has an interest in driving up the global price of oil as high as can be sustained by the markets.
  3. National oil companies in many oil-producing countries neglect their oil production equipment and their oil fields, leading to artificial reduction in production and supply due to Oblomovism.
  4. Official policies of "energy starvation" on the part of the US Obama administration and other western nations, leads to artificial reduction of supplies.
  5. The rapid buildup of the "infrastructure to nowhere" better known as the "Great China Bubble" has led to an artificial demand surge. The Chinese government appears to be engaged in "doubling down" on this policy, despite early warning signs of impending turbulence.
  6. The progressive decline in the value of the dollar creates an inexorably upward trend in oil pricing.
There are many more factors involved, of course. But it is enough to understand that the causes of the current oil price runup are many and varied.

What are the counter-vailing forces, seeking to drive oil prices downward again? The most significant force in the short-term is the desire of speculators to take profits. Once investors decide the house of cards is due for yet another inevitable collapse, the rats will get out while the getting is good.

In the intermediate term, demand destruction eventually sets in -- even in emerging nations, BRICs, and third world nations. But demand destruction in the advanced worlds of the North America and Europe never truly went away after the price runup of 2007-2008. And such demand destruction in North America and Europe is likely to add to the general economic doldrums both there and in exporting nations such as China.

In the longer term, high oil prices stimulate increased production of oil, increased exploration for new oil, better technologies for recovering more oil from existing fields, and better technologies for producing economical substitutes for crude oil. All of these price-stimulated supply increases put downward pressure on oil prices.

The entire dynamic is complex, with several opposing and reinforcing factors in play. It is best to expect to be surprised, and to be prepared, in case you are.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy

More: Gas Prices - Much Ado About Nothing?

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Adventures in Zombie-Proofed Homes: The Converted Oil Silo

The Oil Silo Home, designed by pinkcloud.dk in Berlin, recycles oil silos by transforming them into affordable [zombie-proof -- ed.] houses!

An oil silo is a storage container for compressed liquefied petroleum gas. There are approximately 49,000 oil silos in over 660 oil refineries worldwide! As the [zombie - ed.] population increases at an exponential rate, oil discovery decreases at an exponential rate. Soon all existing oil silos will be [needed for zombie-proof housing -- ed.].

The Oil Silo Home is a 100% self-supporting housing solution for the [zombie infested - ed.] world. It’s highly structurally stable, waterproof, efficient to assemble and disassemble, and has the capacity for prefabrication and mass production. __Pinkcloud.dk
The oil silo home is supported above ground by strong steel pillars. It is acessible by a stairway which can be retracted in case of zombie sightings.
This cutaway view reveals internal space options. One can also see the rooftop defensive position, which allows household snipers optimal views of the surrounding free-fire zones.
Depending upon the climate zone, a variety of modular external sheathings are available, in a wide array of bullet-proofing and fire resistance. While zombies are not able to use firearms or sophisticated weaponry, untransformed humans certainly can. Zombies may be the greatest concern for survival, but human rivalries will still remain, occasionally turning violent.
This image demonstrates one possible means of re-constructing an oil silo into a relatively zombie-proofed house (click for full size). It is recommended that homeowners allow Al Fin zombie-proofers to customise the final residence, for optimal safety.
Oil silos can be converted into multiple unit housing, for extended families and for cooperative, non-family alliances. It is recommended that the most expendable and least trustworthy members of the group be housed in the lower-most unit.
Oil silos can be converted in such a way as to allow optimal natural lighting, as pictured above. Likewise, they can be converted for hilltop placement with partial or complete earth coverage -- for both disguise and weather protection in severe climate locations.

In the age of zombies, the need for secure shelter has never been more acute. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Previously published on Al Fin Potpourri


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Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out to Get You

There have always been multiple strains of anti-government paranoia in the US, which tend to wax and wane depending upon the policies and reputations of the particular presidential administration in office. Depending upon the ideology of the anti-government group and the ideology of the presidential administration, some of these groups are more likely to be ignored, and others more likely to be prosecuted, at any particular time.

At this time, theUS FBI is turning its brightest spotlights away from run of the mill violent gangs and organised crime, onto a movement known as the "Sovereign Citizens" movement. The "sovereign citizen" is more of a loosely knit network comprising a wide range of ideologies, personalities, and outlooks. They read a range of books which converge around the idea that their own government is out to get them. In other words, they are paranoid. So how will such a group -- the vast majority of whom are generally non-violent loners -- respond when the US federal government neglects career criminals in order to go after the separatist loners, specifically.

How do paranoid people typically react when they are made the targets of criminal investigations, night-time no-knock raids, and are otherwise framed as public enemies number 1? One might remember the 1990s, and the ill-conceived and deadly government raids on places known as "Ruby Ridge" or "Waco." Something tells me that the people in charge of US federal law enforcement at this time, learned nothing from the bloody disasters that took place 20 years ago in "flyover country USA."

The FBI did not choose to focus on the "sovereign citizens" by happenstance. Although most of the "sovereigns" would like nothing more than to be left alone by what they see as an over-intrusive government, as with any large movement a few of the sovereigns are violent criminals, by nature.

Ideological activist lobbies such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have long focused upon what they see as right-wing separatists. Under Obama, the SPLC is enjoying significantly greater influence within the US federal government.

News coverage of the sovereignty movement has picked up lately, perhaps signaling a pre-election intensification of federal government focus on this particular anti-government group -- just one group out of a wide range of anti-government groups representing ideologies from the left, the center, the right, and any number of other philosophies and religions.

The sovereignty movement makes a fine target for Obama's FBI, since such a movement would have no friends among Obama's political supporters and financers. It also makes a fine target for the news media, since it is unlikely that most mainstream journalists, editors, or producers are acquainted with or sympathetic with any sovereign citizens. Even Wikipedia is unable to provide more than a superficial, insubstantial article dealing with the sovereignty movement, but opts instead for a boiler-plate, officially approved 1st grade level primer exposing "all those bad people." There are no links to any spokespersons of the movement itself. There are no objective estimates of the actual size or influence of the movement. It is the type of Wikipedia article that shames the brand for its lack of encyclopedic nature.

So if even Wikipedia has lost its objectivity over the "sovereign citizens," and the US FBI is being led around by the short hairs in the grip of the highly ideological SPLC, what can we expect between now and the US presidential election in November?

Well, anything that distracts attention away from the dismal and worsening economic condition of tens of millions of formerly middle-class Americans, can be seen as a good thing by the Obama administration. "Law enforcement as circus entertainment" is a grand political tradition of diverting distraction dating back centuries at least. Mr. Obama's situation as he approaches his most difficult political contest, suggests that he will not be reluctant to pull the trigger on a large scale clamp-down on the sovereign citizens -- as a form of political theatre and political distraction.

And what effect would such a clamp-down have on the wide ideological array of anti-government paranoids? It would have a mixed effect. But political strategists supporting the US President cannot help but hope that something dramatic -- but not too dramatic -- will happen. Something that can be spun in the media to the president's benefit. Something closer to Ruby Ridge than to Waco, with no mothers shot dead while holding their infant in their arms, this time.

Perhaps I should put it bluntly: The ignoramuses in Washington think that they can provoke a limited violent response from an already well-demonised, putatively right wing "extremist" group. They believe that they can contain the popular blowback to manageable levels, while discrediting their political opposition in the general election by linking them to the extremists. But are they reading the public mood correctly?

It is more than possible that the Obama organisation could successfully win the next election, by enlisting federal law enforcement in a scheme geared to induce an explosive reaction from the violent fringe of a paranoid fringe group. Congratulations, Obama people! You have won another election. Now, what do you do to contain the growing damage from the methods you used to win?

President Obama's war against the US energy sector and the US private sector in general, has not been exactly subtle. Mr. Obama's antagonism to many of the US Constitutional protections against government power granted to citizens, is not a well kept secret. These "anti-constitutional" and "anti private sector" tendencies of the current US president are well known to large numbers of North Americans. Those who approve of such tendencies are more likely to support Obama in November. Most of those who disapprove will go no further than to vote against the president.

Of course, if the president's organisation manages to inflate the paranoia of all pro-constitutional Americans -- and not just those few fringists who go so far as to declare themselves "sovereign" -- they will have a somewhat different situation on their hands leading into the lame duck 4 year final term.

No one doubts that Mr. Obama will continue to run up $trillion deficits as long as he is president, thus making the economic future of the country ever more unstable. No one doubts that Obama will keep trying to contain US energy production if he can, thus continuing to cripple US commerce and industry. And those are just the president's better qualities.

When the president decides to get serious about "setting things right," when he feels he has nothing left to lose and everything to gain by going after his lifelong enemies and demons, that is when the paranoids will truly come out to howl at the moon. And when that happens, you might want to take cover.

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Cross-posted to abu al-fin


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25 February 2012

A Brain of One's Own

Every human brain is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses. IQ, executive function, and other critical components of cognition and behaviour are genetically determined, in large part, but understanding the way in which genes determine behaviour and cognition is a complex challenge.
Genes help determine the nature of the brain's connectome, above, and the speed at which nerve transmissions can move along the connectome, between brain centres. Genes also influence brain plasticity via new stem cell production controlling the ability to form new memories.

Genes influence the ability to transfer attention to the more salient aspects of one's environment. This ability has always been a crucial survival trait.

Genes influence both the soundness of a person's feelings and intuition, and the trust that a person has in his own feelings. The sounder the intuition, the better able one is to predict future events and trends. Such prediction has always been a crucial survival trait.
Centre for Motivation? SD

An individual's strength and soundness of motivation helps to determine his ultimate destiny in life -- regardless of the underlying cultural substrate. Scientists are beginning to better understand the brain mechanisms of motivation.
Using images obtained from the MRI scans taken during the test, Mathias Pessiglione and his team identified a general motivational system in the depths of the brain, i.e. a structure capable of activating any effort type, both mental (concentrating on the task in hand) or physical (lifting a load). The researchers observed that the ventral striatum was activated in proportion to the amount of money involved: the higher the degree of motivation, the higher the activation level. Furthermore, the ventral striatum is connected to the median part of the striatum (the caudate nucleus) when the task to be performed is cognitively difficult (when the physical size and the numerical value of the numbers did not correspond). This ventral region solicits the lateral part of the striatum (the putamen) when the difficulty is motor-related (when the handle had to be squeezed very tightly).
The researchers suggest that the expectation of a reward is encoded in the ventral striatum, which can then drive either the motor or cognitive part of the striatum, depending on the task, in order to boost performance. _SD
More at PLoS Biology

Understanding the brain requires a certain level of comprehension of mechanisms operating at multiple levels simultaneously, from the molecular to the behavioural. It also requires an apprehension of circular causality, without which the brain could not function.

Each of us has a unique brain. The uniqueness of our brains is guaranteed by uniquely complex genetic sequences and mechanisms, but also by the unique environments within which these genetic mechanisms have played out.

We have barely begun to learn how our brains create us and our world. It is a great challenge, made all the greater by the incalculable variety that we comprise.

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24 February 2012

On the Need for Thinking Large, and Living Dangerously

Brian Wang has begun linking to various "Solve for X" talks, oriented toward confronting and solving some of the big problems that seem to have humanity stymied.

More on Solve for X:
Solve for X is a place to hear and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems. Radical in the sense that the solutions could help billions of people. Radical in the sense that the audaciousness of the proposals makes them sound like science fiction. And radical in the sense that there is some real technology breakthrough on the horizon to give us all hope that these ideas could really be brought to life.

This combination of things - a huge problem to solve, a radical solution for solving it, and the breakthrough technology to make it happen - is the essence of a moonshot.

Solve for X is intended to be a forum to encourage and amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork. This forum started with a small face-to-face event co-hosted by Astro Teller, Megan Smith, and Eric Schmidt - the Solve for X talks are now being posted here on this site. We encourage you to watch the Solve for X talks, join the G+ conversation, and post your own Solve for X talks._WeSolveForX
Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson looks at why modern humans seem to have shrunk back from the great dreams and ambitions of just a few decades ago. He is almost embarassed to mention one of the most likely suspects, given how well-indoctrinated most modern groups of "right-thinking" persons are expected to be.

Can the "Solve for X" talks shake us out of our downward looking collective trance? The big money is certainly against it.

Just a few decades ago, humans were on the threshold of outer space, and of the entire expansive future. Now, humans are beginning to have have more and more trouble just keeping the lights on, the water clean and running, and their houses heated and cooled.

Rather than to have entered a dynamic and expansive destiny, humans seem to be willfully submerging themselves deeper and deeper into a dysphoric quagmire, where most of our resources are devoted toward averting non-existent risks, and catering to our weaknesses, superstitions, and dysfunctional fears.

If humans are to break out of this self-woven web of stasis and decline, it will occur due to isolated - but - networked groups of persons working essentially outside of the established order. Working outside the mainstream is dangerous. It is likely to get you ridiculed as a sceptic, fired from your job, denied tenure, and cast into the outer darkness. But in a world where tight constricting bands of mutually reinforcing conformity are enforced by governmental and inter-governmental decree, mandate, and penalty, there may be no other choice than living dangerously.

Over at Al Fin, the Next Level, we are running a series on "The Dangerous Child." Dangerous children do not have to be told to beware of manipulated conformity and group-think. But for now, there are damned few truly dangerous children of the variety being discussed over there. We would like to change that.

Groups like Edge.org, TED, and a number of incentive prizes such as the X Prize, are attempting to lead to a wider conversation oriented toward larger, more important questions. Perhaps "Solve For X" will become a useful addition to the wider effort.

But truthfully, the wider community of intelligent minds is made up mainly of people who are either well indoctrinated in the small-minded risk-aversive mentality of the static green welfare state, or who have learned to profit from and be empowered by the small-mindedness of the majority.

If you want something done, and done right, you may have to do it yourself.

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A Brave New Age of Nano-Assassins On the Way?

Devised by engineers at Harvard, an ingenious method for rapid fabrication of micro-bots may herald in a brave new day for mass-produced micro assassins.
In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton, titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.

The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of these microrobots could be fabricated in parallel on a single sheet. _Physorg
An inexpensive approach to the mass-fabrication of assassin micro-bots would put such tools of social engineering within the reach of even the most impoverished household. These tiny devices of empowerment may soon find their way into discount stores in every town.
Sreetharan, Whitney, and their colleagues in the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS have been working for years to build bio-inspired, bee-sized robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony. Appropriate materials, hardware, control systems, and fabrication techniques did not exist prior to the RoboBees project, so each must be invented, developed, and integrated by a diverse team of researchers. _Physorg
Thanks to the new mass-production techniques devised by Harvard engineers, millions of micro-assassin bots can be produced in one production run. Programming the bot for its specific mission requires only a few minutes, and can be performed over a wireless network, using appropriate security protocols.
Harvard engineers say that they will soon be able to reduce the size of the killer bots to the point that they are no longer visible via the naked eye. Of course, invisibility of a sort is already achievable using other stealth tools recently devised across town at MIT.

MIT and Harvard have reportedly allied themselves in a microbot assassin war against Yale and Stanford. But before risking it all in total micro-war, the engineers are rumoured to be testing their killer bots via covert operations in Iran and North Korea.
According to one of the lead engineers on the project, the bots are almost indistinguishable from an insect or arthropod. Some of the bots have been designed to mimic small minnows and worms.

There is some speculation that the minnow bots and worm bots are meant to work their way up through the fish food chain until they have taken over the brains of sharks and barracuda. These borg-controlled fast swimming fish can then be used to carry high explosives into enemy naval installations, for either coordinated or stand-alone attacks.

It is clear that the intrepid engineers of Harvard have taken the concept of stealth assassins to an entirely new level. Widespread vengeance and vigilantism have never been so easy! It will be interesting to watch and see how this concept develops.

All images via Concept Art

Adapted from an earlier article published on Al Fin Potpourri

More weapons news: Shock, Awe, and Ow! at 100 Yards

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23 February 2012

The Great Wall of Canada

The USA Is Already Lost, But Canada Can Still Be Saved!

Top-secret plans are afoot to build a giant wall of carbon purification along the entire length of the Canada - USA border. A prototype wall section built by Carbon Engineering of Calgary demonstrates what such a wall might look like.
Great Wall Route

The technology incorporated into the Great Wall of Canada will be fairly straightforward. Special carbon-capture liquids will be pumped through atmospheric-contact channels, automatically removing the deadly demon gas CO2 from our precious common breathing gases. The carbon will then be removed from the capture liquid, freeing it up for another cycle.
The Great Wall of Canada would be but a first-line defense, of course. Smaller carbon purifying units would be located near large population and industrial zones, for added life-saving protection.
As noted above, the USA is already lost to toxic, acidifying levels of the demon gas. But if we work quickly, we can still save Canada from the demonic forces that threaten most of the rest of the world.
We should consider the Great Wall Project as the first in a series of protective measures against the widespread decay that is destroying large parts of Europe and North America. And thanks to massive resources of coal, gas, bitumens, and crude oil, we can afford to build such a wall, coast to coast. And thanks to our friends from China, for pitching in.

Remember, in the new age of climate change, southern Canada will be the new Arizona and Florida. There will be no need for winter migrations to the south any longer. We need to learn to watch out for ourselves, now.

As for our neighbors to the south, we are willing to sell our carbon purification technology to them, but they must be prepared to pay the full price. We recommend that they start by building a wall along their own southern border, and take it from there.

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22 February 2012

US Air Force Targets Energy Technology Advances in Space

A recent report released by the USAF, Energy Horizons USAF 2011-2026, looks at a number of new energy technologies which might advance the USAF's mission in space -- including small modular reactors for space-based systems.
In terms of nuclear power in space, several satellite systems have been energized by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG). This source provides consistent power, and at a much higher energy and power density than current technologies.

Work on small modular nuclear reactors on Earth is highlighted in the Air Force report: "While the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes, many investments into small modular reactors can be leveraged for space-based systems. As these nuclear power plants decrease in size, their utility on board space-based assets increases."

The report explains that the Air Force space systems portfolio should consider piloting small modular nuclear systems, a view previously recommended by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. _Space
Space.com Orbital Concentrator Solar Array

In the sweeping report a number of desirable high-tech advances are mentioned.

For example, the Air Force is currently limited to 27 kilowatt (kW) arrays for satellite power. But more power is required for some future space missions, the report states, such as flights currently being eyed by the Air Force, national security organizations and NASA. "Employing larger and more efficient arrays will enable missions that require very high power, such as space-based radar or space-based laser missions," the report states.

In the long term, the report says, increased solar cell efficiencies and revolutionary materials foreshadow the potential of 500 kW on-orbit power generation technologies, "which would be transformational for performing missions from space-based systems."

Furthermore, there are other breakthrough space energy technologies that have the potential of achieving up to 70 percent efficiency, the report adds. Examples include quantum dots and dilute nitrides in solar cells. But there are also totally new technologies such as space tethers that could harvest energy from the Earth's geomagnetic field.

...The Air Force report also delves into the wireless transfer of power, a technology that continues to offer big promises despite the daunting challenges involved in making it a reality.

While there are many challenges in "space-to-earth" power beaming, "space-to-space power beaming" could be transformational, the report stresses.

An energy-beaming benefit for the military is powering sets of fractionated, distributed satellite systems, the report explains. Doing so would enable spacecraft to be smaller, more survivable, and more capable than current systems.

A power paradigm change

In orbit, many spacecraft systems — sensors, communications equipment and on-board processing — can require intense amounts of power.

Like all computing architectures, these systems are currently composed exclusively of silicon- based technology. However, decades of work has begun to change this paradigm, the report points out. Newer systems require less energy and offer a reduced thermal load in comparison to their silicon counterparts, the report adds.

Advances in satellite propulsion are also spotlighted in the newly issued report. Today, the ability of space-based systems to alter their orbits is based on blasts of on-board fuel. The possibility of on-orbit refueling for these systems is now being studied.

In the mid- and far-term, the report suggests, other propulsion technologies will provide exceptionally efficient propulsion. That will allow the fuel onboard orbiting systems to be utilized for longer periods of time. Hall and electric thrusters, for instance, promise extended utility of limited onboard propellants.

Whatever the technology, new methods of generating power in space hold great promise for the Air Force's plans for new satellites and other space missions. _Space.com

Cross-posted from Al Fin Energy

Brian Wang has more, excerpted from the AF PDF document

More USAF technology horizons from Brian Wang

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Advances in Repairing Infarcted Myocardial Tissue

UCSD scientists have developed an injectable gel to reinvigorate damaged heart tissue, after a heart attack. Heart failure subsequent to myocardial infarction is a significant cause of death in adults of advanced nations. Tissue replacement and revitalisation treatments such as this, promise to add healthy years to the lives of tens of millions of people, worldwide.
Researchers claim to have developed a new injectable hydrogel which they say could be used to repair tissue damaged by heart attacks.

A team at the University of California, led by Karen Christman, hopes to bring the gel to clinical trials within the next year, the latest edition of Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported.

Therapies like the hydrogel would be a welcome development, Christman explained, since there are an estimated 785,000 new heart attack cases in the US each year, with no established treatment for repairing the resulting damage to cardiac tissue.

The hydrogel is made from cardiac connective tissue that is stripped of heart muscle cells through a cleansing process, freeze-dried and milled into powder form, and then liquefied into a fluid that can be easily injected into the heart.

Once it hits body temperature, the liquid turns into a semi-solid, porous gel that encourages cells to repopulate areas of damaged cardiac tissue and to preserve heart function, according to Christman.

The hydrogel forms a scaffold to repair the tissue and possibly provides biochemical signals that prevent further deterioration in the surrounding tissues. _HinduBusinessLine
Study abstract
Abstract of earlier study

This type of cellular replacement and tissue replacement is important if we are to be able to stretch out the useful lifetimes of genetically flawed bodies. Prevention of disease is better than treatment. Genetic re-design to reduce vulnerabilities may be best of all. Stay tuned.


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21 February 2012

A Contemptible Conformity: Humans as Hardwired Herd Beasts

Some people conform more than others. Across different contexts, this tendency is a fairly stable trait [1]. This stability suggests that the tendency to conform might have an anatomical correlate [2]. Values that one associates with available options, from foods to political candidates, help to guide choices and behaviour. These values can often be updated by the expressed preferences of other people as much as by independent experience. In this correspondence, we report a linear relationship between grey matter volume (GM) in a region of lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFCGM) and the tendency to shift reported desire for objects toward values expressed by other people. This effect was found in precisely the same region in each brain hemisphere. lOFCGM also predicted the functional hemodynamic response in the middle frontal gyrus to discovering that someone else's values contrast with one's own. These findings indicate that the tendency to conform one's values to those expressed by other people has an anatomical correlate in the human brain. _Current Biology Campbell-Meikeljohn et al
Current Biology Campbell-Meikeljohn et al

We have known for many decades that humans can be moved to behave in irrational and fanatical ways, by perceived popular or group opinions and attitudes. Following the disturbing Nazi Germany experience of WWII, psychologists attempted to determine how decent people could be led to conform to indecent behaviours. From the Asch experiments to the Milgram experiments and more, psychologists unfolded an image of human conformity to crowd pressure which is most uncomplimentary to the species.

The research cited above looked at how easily a person's opinion of a piece of music could be swayed by the opinions of "reviewers." Those subjects with larger volumes in the orbitofrontal cortex were more easily swayed by "expert opinion." Popular media article describing the research

One example of the dangers of conformity to the herd is climate activist Peter Gleick: His fraud and deception is but the latest in a series of contretemps for the "climate consensus orthodoxy." Such acts of consensus-inspired insanity force thinking persons to scratch their heads in wonder. What is it that compels nominally intelligent persons to blissfully surrender themselves into a sea of fanatical conformity, convinced that the "safety in numbers" will protect them no matter how deeply they descend into a consensual mindlessness?

But if there is something hardwired into the brains of conformists so that they truly cannot help themselves, should we deal with their contemptible behaviour differently?

Difficult to say. Although consensual herd conformists tend to behave abysmally en masse, we are required to deal with them individually, on a case by case basis. We must also admit to ourselves that the rehabilitation from herd conformity to rational, independent thinking, is not likely to be successful for most affected persons.

We would like to think that the group hysteria which brought Adolf Hitler to power in Germany, will not be repeated in more modern times. But we would probably be deluding ourselves by believing that, particularly in light of a declining demographic, the coming Idiocracy, and the clique-like nature of academia, media, popular culture, and politics. In light of all that, a "Lord of the Flies" future may be the best we can expect.

Here is a sad addendum, and a hint of future uses of advanced technologies which should have been used to improve the human condition.

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Peter Gleick is Apparent Author of FakeGate, Confesses to Fraud

Peter Gleick has confessed to the fraudulent obtaining of private documents from the Heartland Institute think tank, and of subsequently disseminating them to avowed enemies of Heartland. He claims to have done this out of frustration at his inability to utterly defeat the enemies of the climate orthodoxy by legitimate means, or something to that effect.
One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others. (Some of the released documents contain information about Heartland employees that has no bearing on the climate fight.) That is his personal tragedy and shame (and I’m sure devastating for his colleagues, friends and family). _Revkin NYT (who himself is "involved" in this escapade and who may have deleted online materials in an attempt to limit his personal legal risk)

Gleick is refusing to admit to authorship of the fake memo, which is written in a unique style curiously similar to Gleick's own writing (see Steven Mosher comments here, here, here and here). I suspect that much more will be said about Mr. Gleick's personal standards of honesty in the days to come -- perhaps even in a court of law.

Gleick has been an outspoken advocate of the catastrophic view of climate change, and has been vocally impatient -- and often abusive -- at anyone who wishes to take a more cautious and careful approach in the interpretation of the scientific data.

Here are more reports on this development:

Climate Audit: Peter Gleick confesses

Watts Up With That Breaking: Gleick Confesses

Tom Nelson: Regarding Gleickgate and much more

Climate Depot coverage

It is likely that the fallout from Gleick's egregious contretemps will grow to greater significance over the next several days.

Stay tuned to Tom Nelson, Anthony Watts, and Steve McIntyre for more.

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20 February 2012

Russia Playing War Games with Global Oil Markets

Russia has intentionally maneuvered Iran to the brink of war over its nuclear reactor program, in order to help raise global oil prices. With Russia's unflagging assistance, Iran is processing its uranium ore so as to produce highly enriched uranium. The most likely indications are that Iran will have enough enriched uranium to build fission bombs in the near future -- again, with Russia's assistance.

Russia is the main beneficiary of the run-up to war and oil market instability -- its oil profits are keeping its corrupt government afloat. China is a secondary beneficiary, able to buy Iranian oil at a significant markdown. The Iranian people are the big losers, sinking into poverty, drug addiction, and despair.
Russia is now the world's largest oil producer, pumping about 10 million barrels of oil a day, slightly more than Saudi Arabia. Of this, Russia exports seven million barrels a day... The Russian oil industry was already reaping the rewards of higher global oil prices from Iranian tensions, even before Tehran raised the stakes Wednesday by threatening to cut off oil to six European nations.

Now, whether Iran carries out that threat immediately or Europe proceeds with its previously planned embargo of Iranian oil this summer, the Russian industry could capitalise more directly. Its pipelines stand ready to serve customers willing to pay a premium price — with a grade of oil closely resembling Iran's._NYTimes News Service _ via TheHindu
Clearly, given their growing capability to produce and deliver oil wherever the market dictates, and the tie between the price of oil and price of gas in Russian supply contracts, it is in the clear interest of the Russians to push up the price of Brent crude. Therefore, could it be that the tumult around deliveries of Iranian oil is merely a smokescreen to escalate prices, and that some thing far more nefarious is taking place? _Learsy_HuffPost
Russia is having problems with its own ineptitude and corruption. It is also troubled by the threat of the coming global shale oil & gas boom. Other competitive pressures likely to arise in the near future include massive supplies of unconventional liquid fuels from GTL, CTL, BTL, bitumens, kerogens -- all eventually facilitated by high quality nuclear process heat.

It is clear that Russia had to take matters into its own hands in order to drive up oil prices -- one way or another.
As the NYTimes reported, "The Russian oil industry was already reaping the rewards of higher oil prices from Iranian tensions." The Russians have been cashing in brilliantly while rendering support to Iran by such acts as vetoing or emasculating any and all meaningful U.N. resolutions that would force Iran to comply with the terms of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency mandates. It is an open question whether this is being done in solidarity with Iran, or more malignly, to solidify Iranian intransigence on matters nuclear, in the hope that the European and other world consumers' boycott of Iranian oil has maximum impact, making Russian oil more sale-able at ever higher prices. _Learsy
Meanwhile, Russia is seeking the help of the international oil companies to upgrade its oil production and refining procedures and operations. Given how Russia has behaved toward international oilcos in the past after having received help and technology transfer, it is difficult to see how this turns out well for either western oil companies or western countries in general.

At the same time that Russia is ramping up international tensions over Iran in order to pull in greater oil profits, it is also looking for the world's sympathy by claiming that Russian oil fields are declining rapidly, to the point that Russia's oil production "has peaked" and in danger of rapid decline.

Yes, certainly we should all feel sorry for Russia, the nation that is enabling nuclear proliferation in Iran and driving the world to the brink of war -- all for oil profits that will go into the Swiss bank accounts of Russian oligarchs, insiders, and quasi-dictators. The nation that lets its oil fields go to crap out of neglect, asks western corporations for help, then abruptly nationalises any resources, technologies, and assets which the outsiders naively leave within the kleptocratic reaches of the Russian government.

Russia's energy reserves remain vast, deep, and wide -- and largely unexplored and undiscovered. In the hands of competent organisations, Russia's hydrocarbon production would not peak for several more decades. But pay no attention to reality -- heed only what you are told by your masters.

Raymond J. Learsy thinks that Russia is manipulating global oil markets to the detriment of all of Europe:
So here we have Russia, a major supplier of oil and gas with an economy deeply dependent on the revenues received from the sale of those commodities. According to the NYTimes article, "And the taxes the Russian government has received from those sales have been a political windfall for Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin as he campaigns to return as Russia's president. The extra money has helped further subsidize domestic energy consumption, tamping down inflation." Combine this with a Russia that is in large measure governed by that unique version of our Wall Street "ole boys network," the alumni of Russia's highly touted secret service, the KGB. The KGB helped form Putin and many of his associates in government. Here was an organization that was the nonpareil masters of clandestine intrigue, knows how to keep secrets, and now in a sense, is running the country albeit with the trappings of democratic governance.

Fast forward-only this week, "a group of brokers and traders successfully managed to manipulate an interest rate that affects loans around the world" (Please see "Traders Manipulated Key Rate, Bank Says," Wall Street Journal). If this could happen to interest rates, so widely traded throughout the world, just think what a KGB oriented Russia could do, and not with $6,500 at their disposal, but billions upon billions. It should not be a stunning surprise to those, be they government agencies, the press, or energy focused think tanks, that the traded price of Brent crude is being gamed. _Learsy
That would be an interesting "one-two!" play by the Russians, if we believe that they are so clever and manipulative. First ramp up international tensions over Iran, then behind-the-scenes, use a bit of leverage to shift global markets to their advantage.

We know the Russian government needs every bit of hard currency it can get, to keep its people happy, and to keep powerful insiders well compensated. But the price being paid by the Iranian people is severe, and has no apparent end-point.

Needless to say, the strategy is not guaranteed to work to the satisfaction of top Russian players, indefinitely. A lot of things could go wrong....

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Russia, a demographic, infrastructural, and public health disaster continues to play itself out, below the happy Potemkin facade. Putin has a grand strategy, but it is built on a foundation that is slowly crumbling.

Parts of the above were cross-posted from articles previously published at Al Fin Energy.

Meanwhile, contrast the lucrative game of realpolitik being played by Russia, with the ham-handed, self-destructive voodoo environomics being practised by the Obama administration, to the detriment of North Americans everywhere.

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The Truth about Gender Preferences Hiding in Plain Sight

MJ Perry at Carpe Diem blog looks at College Board Advanced Placement exams by gender, in search of what he could learn about possible career choice interests by high school aged girls and boys. What he found is quite revealing -- and quite unlikely to ever be revealed in the mainstream press, for fear of repercussions from powerful feminist interests.

Take a look, and see what you think:
AP Subject Exam, 2011 %Female   %Male 
Studio Art: Drawing7426
Studio Art: Design7228
French Language6931
Art History6634
English Literature6337
Spanish Language 6337
Spanish Literature6337
English Language6238
Chinese Language5842
French Literature5842
Environmental Science5644
World History5545
Human Geography5446
U.S. History5446
European History5347
U.S. Government5347
Statistics 5248
Calculus AB4951
Comparative Government 4852
Music Theory4258
Calculus BC4159
Physics B3565
Physics C22674
Physics C12377
Computer Science A2080
Computer Science AB1486

1. Of the 35 AP subjects, female high students were over-represented in 20 subjects, male students were over-represented in 14 subjects and one subject (Latin) was perfectly balanced by gender.

2. In the science area, female students showed a greater interest in biology (59%) and environmental science (56%) than males, and males showed a greater interest in chemistry (47%) and physics (65%).

3. For mathematics subjects, female high school students were slightly over-represented in statistics (52%) and males were slightly over-represented in calculus (51%). For advanced calculus, male students were over-represented at 59%.

4. For all languages except German, more female students took language AP exams than males, and for French, female students outnumbered male students by more than 2-to-1.

5. Male high school students were significantly over-represented in all three physics exams, and both computer science exams.

Bottom Line: Assuming that high school students take AP classes and exams based on their interests and aptitudes in certain subjects, there do appear to be many gender-based differences in academic interests. Even within STEM fields there appear to be gender differences, with female high school students showing a greater interest than males in biology and environmental science and males showing a greater interest in chemistry and physics. Female students show an interest in statistics and calculus, but less of an interest in advanced math (calculus) and very little interest in computer science compared to their male classmates. _MJPerry
Girls appear to display some strong career preferences at this stage. And judging by these preferences, it is unlikely that half of all professors in science / math, and engineering / computer science, will ever be female -- unless some form of strong coercion combined with a counter-productive "dumbing down" are instituted politically.

As Mark points out in his blog post, dominant feminist interests in academia, politics, and journalism do not care about anything except what can be used to increase the political power of their affiliates. Outside of such interests, there is no significant reality, for them.

For the rest of us, we merely need to try to limit how badly we are mugged by the politically connected special interests who have hijacked what was once a representative democracy/ constitutional republic.


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The Cosmos: Its Origin, History, and Future, Self Explained

Our Universe: Beginnings and Early History

The story of the cosmos, like every other story, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We may quibble over a detail here or there. But since none of us were here at the beginning, and none of us are likely to be here at the end, we must take our best guesses.
While none of us expects to see more than a small part of the cosmos with our own eyes, we like to view panoramic visions which help us to place our lives and our knowledge in context.
Cosmic Destinies
All things come to an end eventually -- if only to be transformed into something else.

It is easy to see our own stories, from our individual births through our lives, finally ending in our deaths, in this cosmic panorama. The analogy is not perfect, and many of us tend to resist the sense of a final end -- and perhaps of a distinct beginning. That is natural.

It is also natural for cosmologists to borrow from their own sense of biological life cycles when they create their theories of cosmic life cycles. What you see above is a graphical theory, the best that cosmologists can do as a group, at this time. Tune back in in 100 billion years for an update.


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19 February 2012

Germany's Sunshine Fairy Fantasy

Germans have paid about $130 billion for a climate-change policy that has no impact on global warming. They have subsidized Chinese jobs and other European countries’ reliance on dirty energy sources. And they have needlessly burdened their economy. As even many German officials would probably attest, governments elsewhere cannot afford to repeat the same mistake. _GWPF
Germany has been caught up in a dreamy fantasy of a golden shiny green future, full of sunshine fairies and wind sprites. But artificial, made-up euphorias have a way of turning into despair, eventually. Bjorn Lomborg has more:

Sunshine Fairy Image Source

Germany once prided itself on being the “photovoltaic world champion”, doling out generous subsidies – totaling more than $130 billion, according to research from Germany’s Ruhr University – to citizens to invest in solar energy. But now the German government is vowing to cut the subsidies sooner than planned, and to phase out support over the next five years. What went wrong?

There is a fundamental problem with subsidizing inefficient green technology: it is affordable only if it is done in tiny, tokenistic amounts. Using the government’s generous subsidies, Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed “acceptable.” It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 hike in the average consumer’s annual power bill.

According to Der Spiegel, even members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s staff are now describing the policy as a massive money pit. Philipp Rösler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, has called the spiraling solar subsidies a “threat to the economy.”

...Germany – like most of the world – is not as sunny as the Sahara. And, while sunlight is free, panels and installation are not. Solar power is at least four times more costly than energy produced by fossil fuels. It also has the distinct disadvantage of not working at night, when much electricity is consumed.

In the words of the German Association of Physicists, “solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants.” On short, overcast winter days, Germany’s 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. When the sun failed to shine last winter, one emergency back-up plan powered up an Austrian oil-fired plant to fill the supply gap.

Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3% of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts. _Bjorn Lomborg_via_GWPF
Even if photovoltaic panels were 100% efficient and given away free of charge, utility-scale solar power would be a hugely wasteful and exorbitantly expensive mistake. Remember that every time you read a headline trumpeting "dramatic gains in photovoltaic efficiency" or "huge reductions in solar panel costs." Solar power is okay for off-grid applications of relatively small scale. But the intermittency of solar power (and wind power) is a deal-killer in terms of large scale grid power.

Germany would have known that if not for its green euphoric fantasy facade. What is the facade obscuring? You probably do not want to know.

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