still more and bigger crises

Martin Wolf:

The most important point is that where we are now is intolerable. Today’s concentrations of state-insured private wealth and power must surely go.

At present, the official sector believes tighter regulation, particularly higher capital requirements, can contain these risks. But this is likely to fail. If it does, we will need to be radical. Yet narrow banking would still not be enough. We would need to rule out quasi-banking. Otherwise, we would soon return to the world of fragility and bail-outs. Funds that replace banks would have to pass the risks directly on to the outside investors.

The authorities will not entertain such radical ideas right now. But the financial system is so inherently fragile that radical reform cannot be pronounced dead. It is only dormant.

let ’em go bust

Wired Science regularly runs informative articles telling us what’s in products, what’s safe, what’s harmful, what’s silly profiteering. For example, analyzing superfoods.

Salon’s The Good Life by Bill Bunn adds to our knowledge:

What’s really in your shampoo?
Sure, a couple ingredients clean your hair.
But the rest are a veritable toxic dump on your head.

Do you recall mainstream media taking the trouble to protect us? Phooey on them.

blame no hoard but shopping

A child born in the U.S. or Europe will contribute thousands of times more CO2 emissions than a poor child in Africa.

Population growth and CO2 emissions from 1980 to 2005:

Rising populations in sub-Saharan Africa and other poor regions have had a negligible impact on global warming.

fixing junk equipment

two and a half cents per kilowatt-hour

We pay five times that for electricity.

For instance, in 2008 coal costs between 7 and 14 cents per kWh; natural gas between 7 and 10 cents per kWh; and wind between 4 and 9 cents per kWh. In terms of new nuclear, some estimates put its price at 15 cents per kWh or more.

the video void

A whopping 25 billion online videos were watched during the month of August — in the United States alone.

laugh out loud: You have the power to change history. But first, check out this really cute baby video!

In any given week, the most-watched videos are nearly always void of meaningful information.

Nearly 82 per cent of all U.S. Internet users watched videos online in August, with an average viewing time amounting to 9.7 hours, according to industry tracker comScore. The duration of a typical video was slightly less than four minutes.

our junk theology of us

  1. Behavioral economics, a hybrid of psychology, is in. The efficient market hypothesis is widely viewed as an embarrassing example of primitive fundamentalism.
  2. To state the bloomin’ obvious, unless the private sector expands to create jobs and generate tax revenues, we’re going to be considerably poorer for years.
  3. But how on earth can that happen if the state has to employ a growing army of officials to prevent the private sector ripping us off?

This essay asks a British-bent but critical question: “If markets don’t work, what will?

UK’s Robert Peston is asking us all if we want to revive an intrusive government we knew years ago as we try to repair the hands-off and weak government that George Bush and Schwarzenegger and Palin, for example, with decades of free-market pundits were proud to starve and destroy.

In an earlier post, toward reasonably optimal behavior, I pointed out that our belief in so-called free markets and embedded game theory is both unfounded and lazy. I’ve resented this jingoism since Reagan and I’m sad for its effects.

The foist of laissez-faire arrived in the stagflating late 1970s and grew through the 80s while we first shrunk under multinational globalism, the still unsolved specter of exponential human demand, and the great challenge of hoping to invigorate both leadership and ourselves.

But as Greenspan apologizes for over reliance on the false magic of self-interest and we see that few if any had tested Milton Friedman’s assertions that trial and error is our best government, we’re proving what we’ve known, that nests of fools and thieves are entrenched in business and politics, too many of whom we’ve elected.

What’s next? We’ve seen tremendous innovation and growth. I believe more the result of the generations than witty policies – increased knowledge and ease of relations, building out finance and services, checking incessant and arrogant pathology, pushing ourselves forward in myriad projects that we encourage each other to fruit, and as well, due to Volker perhaps, firm monetization of economies without a staid oligarchy or cruel presidium.

Giving credit where it’s due, agencies and officials told to back off have been more agreeable over the years than post-war, except the local armies dressed as police or those roping unkempt poverty. Did we know smiles and handshakes were hiding ineffectual oversight and backroom alliances?

We must re-purpose.

We must repair sectors we’ve neglected to oversee. We know for certain we will restrain trickery and massive exploitation. Stop the rude lie that the weak will not hurt us if we ignore them. It’s not only government that can do that. A better tolerance is needed and much better intolerance too.

Robert Peston wants a revivalist turn, I think, criticizing one bench while sitting too close to its sister. I’d want vital change instead, where we realize we can steer government, we own it, to execute important duties without daring in any way to harm its people or waste the nation’s holding.

I think we’ll continue to purge unpublic representatives coddling libertine and vicious contributors, including the tiny fiefdoms nearby. Second we will at least re-set broad rule making and grant civil power to intervene. But this time, with immediate transparency easily obtained by the public. We want to bite fraud and crime but watch our watchdogs.Current media truly failed here.

It’s not just Wall Street on my mind. Food safety is an example of weakened agents overdue for a lift. Favors and habits in our military budget? The list is too long, but there’s our prize.

Another Franklin Roosevelt stuck in this 21st Century crash might hire millions of us to fix our ragged institutions, photographers and artists coming along to offices and halls. We’ll sweep away what’s crooked in our generation as the prairie was planted. No new Hoover Dam, but we’ll vacuum away nonsense. We’ll swat those taking comfort from the weary. We’ll audit the execs at the golf course.

Our trust will return. With or without that, it’s our future and we make it.

The Animal Spirits EconomyThe global financial crisis has made it painfully clear that powerful psychological forces are imperiling the wealth of nations today. From blind faith in ever-rising housing prices to plummeting confidence in capital markets, “animal spirits” are driving financial events worldwide. In this book, acclaimed economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller challenge the economic wisdom that got us into this mess, and put forward a bold new vision that will transform economics and restore prosperity.

Akerlof and Shiller reassert the necessity of an active government role in economic policymaking by recovering the idea of animal spirits, a term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the gloom and despondence that led to the Great Depression and the changing psychology that accompanied recovery.

Like Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller know that managing these animal spirits requires the steady hand of government–simply allowing markets to work won’t do it. In rebuilding the case for a more robust, behaviorally informed Keynesianism, they detail the most pervasive effects of animal spirits in contemporary economic life–such as confidence, fear, bad faith, corruption, a concern for fairness, and the stories we tell ourselves about our economic fortunes–and show how Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the rational expectations revolution failed to account for them.

man seeks deportation

Man can’t afford USA: An illegal immigrant entered a police station and asked to be deported because he could no longer make ends meet in America.

New Income Inequality Data: Surprising and Frightening

Experts had anticipated that the declines in income of the rich would lead to a reversal in this group’s ever–widening share of our national income. Instead, the Census reported that the 2008 income losses by the top 10% of Americans were offset by larger losses among middle class and poorer Americans.

to interpret a plight

Not all the unemployed found careers in literature, music, and film, of course, but, even for those who didn’t, the idea of choosing to do something other than make money—the idea of being like Cary Grant—was more than a rationalization or a fantasy.

Jeff McMahon at Scorched Earth:

…and hope that it truly is the case that the mass of men no longer live lives of quiet desperation.

I feel united in work and art myself, but I worry about generalizing that feeling for two reasons: 1) I feel I’ve gotten there by veering left whenever the traditional career path indicated a right turn ahead, sometimes at great financial cost (turning down editing jobs, for example, in order to keep writing), and 2) It might be a trick of capitalism.

I recall seeing some very smart person lecture on the Bourgeois Bohemian phenomenon, suggesting that people were buying drafting tables or desks called “The Walden” at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel because the capitalism of the information age wants us to believe our work is our art so that we work happily all day and night.

So, let’s hope but be wary.

applying payments

Robert Oak:

Now, if only the Federal Reserve and Congress would ban the new big brother game of behavioral profiling.

Literally, credit card companies are lowering credit limits, raising your rates based on if you shop at Wal-Mart or go to a bar too much. Now, not only is this a massive invasion of privacy, we’re sorry but credit scores should be limited to…..uh, how well you pay your bills and that’s it!

Datamining 1984

the neo-conservative firmament

The side he picked in economics was an odd one. A 1975 issue featured a pair of articles: “The Social Pork Barrel” launched the career of a young Michigan Congressman, David Stockman, who would become budget director for Ronald Reagan; and “The Mundell-Laffer Hypothesis – a New View of the World Economy,” by Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jude Wanniski, introduced the world to economists Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell, and their newly-invented brand of ‘supply side economics’.

Widely known as ‘the Godfather’ of neo-conservatism, Irving Kristol explained:

Among the core social scientists around The Public Interest there were no economists…. This explains my own rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems.

The task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority – so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government

For power, stump lies.

busy being stupid

Professor John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the key advisors to the German government, suggested that North Americans know less about climate change than just about anyone else in the world.

Scientific illiteracy is not a badge of honor.

Yet there’s already a great shift occurring. Recent market analysis show that biomass-sourced fuels are expected to take 25% of the US gasoline market by 2030.

FYI, the White House policy:

The science is increasingly clear that holding the global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is likely to be essential for keeping climate change to a manageable level. It is likewise clear that having a good chance of meeting this goal requires that global emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants should level off by about 2020 and shrink thereafter to something like 50 percent of the current levels by 2050, with continuing declines after that. Economic and political realities, including recognition that emissions from the industrialized countries have caused the largest part of the problem up until now, suggest that the United States and other industrial nations should take the lead in this effort, reducing our emissions to well below current levels by 2020.

dumping obstructionist jingo

John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, one of the largest electric utilities, and the third to quit the US Chamber of Commerce:

“The carbon-based free lunch is over. But while we can’t fix our climate problems for free, the price signal sent through a cap-and-trade system will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible.” read more

lead in hunters’ brains

Dr. William Cornatzer, clinical professor of medicine at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences:

X-rays reveal about 60 percent of venison contains lead.

Shot fragments.

The discovery prompted North Dakota to warn pregnant women and children 6 and under not to eat venison killed with ammunition containing lead.

“I knew good and well after seeing that image that I had been eating a lot of lead fragments over the years.”

eek! of the week department

Troubles from residing in space is one thing, muscle & bone loss for instance. But reproducing in space might trigger very odd babies

75% of the proteins from stem cells exposed to microgravity were not found in those grown under normal gravity.

“No one has really looked at the effect of microgravity at a cellular level and we think that is a huge gap.”

Australia Science link

mongering short list

“Medicare Scare-Mongering,” New York Times, 9/26/09

  • The New York Times decried and debunked Republican “scare-mongering” on what health insurance reform would mean for Medicare.
  • As the Times says, for Republicans to “posture as vigilant protectors of Medicare” reeks of “cynicism and hypocrisy,” considering that they have “in the past tried to pare back Medicare.”
    o As recently as this past April, Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program that provides a fixed sum of money to buy private insurance.

  • With their recent scare tactics, the paper says, Republicans have been “obscuring and twisting the facts and spreading unwarranted fear.”
  • In fact, the Times points out, “the various reform bills now pending should actually make Medicare better for most beneficiaries — by enhancing their drug coverage, reducing the premiums they pay for drugs and medical care, eliminating co-payments for preventive services and helping keep Medicare solvent, among other benefits.”
  • President Obama believes Medicare is a sacred trust with America’s seniors. Reform protects Medicare. It doesn’t use dime of the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform and it strengthens the financial health of the program.

flipping infection

Thinking about vector.

The one variable that overwhelmingly predicted the presence of the germ was the presence of a cat. Cat owners were eight times more likely than others to have MRSA at home.

Only after we treated all three members of the family were we able to get rid of the infections.

“There are a number of papers coming out now showing that pets pick up MRSA from us and that they shed it back into the environment again. What’s happened for the first time that we’ve noticed is that you’re getting flip back and forth,” said Scott Shaw, head of the infection control committee at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

where does all this me?

The idea of mind and by extension of selfhood that I want to bring forth through the notion of extended self is that of a self that is located neither inside nor outside the brain/body, but is instead constantly enacted in-between brains, bodies and things and thus irreducible to any of these three elements taken in isolation.

Even though the self is by nature grounded and inextricably bound up with the body, it also escapes the natural confines of any single body or brain.

The extended self I am proposing here is not simply a self embodied; it is a self enacted through the act of embodying.

Lambros Malafouris of Cambridge presents “a view of selfhood as an extended and distributed phenomenon that is enacted across the skin barrier”.

Words like ‘me’ and ‘I’ neither fossilize nor do they leave any readily identifiable and universal material trace.

The existence of a transparent phenomenal inner ‘I’ causing the human hand to move and alter the world in full awareness is assumed before and behind even the earliest artefacts recovered in the archaeological record.

But when and how did humans develop the experience that they own their bodies and started to feel as the authors of their actions?

walking the watt

Chris Tobias:

Underlying the carbon-cutting question are: Where will the new energy industries be located? Who will be building the wind turbines, solar panels and highly efficient light emitting diodes? The countries that cut carbon emissions fastest will have a competitive advantage.

Stabilizing the earth’s climate is a complex undertaking and fraught with risk. If the United States leads — and does so boldly — I believe the world will follow.

think long about food

Gary Jones, psycho-signals from the muck:

Does it taste good and have a pleasing texture? How much does it cost? Is it readily available or must you jump through hoops to get it? The answer works both ways since preferences vary. Some people insist on paying large amounts for food. It’s a signaling mechanism to raise their social status and distinguish themselves from lesser humans. Some people may not have the money to buy status, but they have the energy to jump through hoops to get rare if not costly foods, and raise their status that way. Some base their status on “getting it bought right”. For them low cost may not be a necessity so much as a signaling method proving their astuteness and attention to opportunity.

I don’t judge. My beef is good and it’s produced in good ways. I’m satisfied with those measures of performance. But I’ll charge you however much you require. I’ll sell you fillets at $20 a pound if that’s what blows your skirt up. Happy to oblige. I’ll also sell them to you for $6 but make you wait and jump through some hoops if that’s what you seek. Same for unusual cuts for the foodie that can cook. What we rural folks call “boiling beef”, meaning that it’s tough but flavorful and so suitable only for soups and stock, also happens to be very nutritious. It’s either cheap peasant food or exotic functional food depending on what you want. As an expert of sorts it’s all of these things to me, so I can appreciate whatever perspective you hold.

When you think long about food it becomes clear that the whole idea of some umbrella label such as organic can’t possibly be of any real value. It’s either too general to be useful or too specific to be applicable. It’s the wrong question, and even if answered only gives you one of the many, many answers that you might need.

don’t tell hollywood

The first of these monsters was a cloth monkey mother who, upon schedule or demand, would eject high-pressure compressed air. It would blow the [infant macaque’s] skin practically off its body. What did this baby monkey do? It simply clung tighter and tighter to the mother, because a frightened infant clings to its mother at all costs. We did not achieve any psychopathology.

However, we did not give up. We built another surrogate monster mother that would rock so violently that the baby’s head and teeth would rattle. All the baby did was cling tighter and tighter to the surrogate. The third monster we built had an embedded wire frame within its body which would spring forward and eject the infant from its ventral surface [i.e., its front]. The infant would subsequently pick itself off the floor, wait for the frame to return into the cloth body, and then again cling to the surrogate.

Finally we built our porcupine mother. On command, this mother would eject sharp brass spikes over all of the ventral surfaces of its body. Although the infants were distressed by these pointed rebuffs, they simply waited until the spikes receded and then returned and clung to the mother.

barely imagined beings