Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Career Spent Studying Laughter

There is a psychology professor at the University of Maryland -- Baltimore campus named Robert Provine who has studied and made audio tapes of laughter for many years. He knows the length in time of "laugh notes" like ho and ha and heh. He knows they are separated by 210 milliseconds when repeated. He figures babies laugh 300 times a day, yet adults laugh but 20 times a day.

Judy Dutton of mental_floss has written about Provine and some of his provocative discoveries. One finding is that relatively unfunny one-liners get a lot of laughs.

Provine concludes that people laugh as a social lubricant. People laugh 30 times more frequently in the presence of others than while alone. Even nitrous oxide (laughing gas) doesn’t make one laugh when inhaled alone. He has found that, yes, laughter is indeed contagious. With MRI scans, he has shown that the sound of laughter activates the premotor cortex of the brain, preparing the face muscles to smile and laugh – and he has shown that screaming and retching sounds don’t inspire this reaction. Since laughter is contagious and laughter prepares an individual to join in, laugh tracks for situation comedies actually do work.

Provine has also studied tickling and gone to primate labs to observe the tickling of monkeys. He’s found that laughter does help healing and does signal social dominance.

Provine has not figured out why trying to hold a greased pig is so hilarious. He is working on why it is that we can’t force ourselves to laugh. He’s planning to run brain scans on people while they are laughing. His work continues.

Summarized from:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Paul Cadden's Hyperrealist Art

Paul Cadden, 47, often using simply a pencil, creates drawings, usually of human faces, which are as detailed as a photograph. This school, hyperrealist art, is startling.

My own wish would be that he base his drawings on multiple photographs rather than a single shot. The photographs from which the work is based are extreme close-ups, so much so that the nose or mouth is fully in focus but the ears, for example, are out of focus. With a series of different, ideally simultaneous, photographs upon which to base a drawing, he could out-do photography with a drawing that is equally sharply focused throughout the face, an equivalent to "deep focus" cinematography.

There is a startlingly humane element in Cadden’s art. Whereas in modeling and in motion pictures, only the prettiest features catch our attention, Cadden’s ability to draw lined faces, weary eyes and grey hair adds a human element very seldom caught by a camera unless it is wielded by a master like the late Gordon Parks.

In a perfect world, perhaps this sort of hyperrealism would be the center of our animated movies, for a neuvo-surrealism and for urgently needed, superbly wry political cartoons.

Take a look at some of Cadden’s drawings at this link:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Negative Quiddity: Bureaucratic Limits to Generousity

NYC Bans Food Donations To The Homeless

An interagency task force in New York City, which includes the Health department and the Homeless department, decided that homeless shelters cannot accept donated food to supplement what is fed to the homeless. It is desired that the nutrients and additives to food eaten by the homeless be monitored, such as salt, fat and fiber.

"For the things that we run because of all sorts of safety reasons, we just have a policy it is my understanding of not taking donations," Bloomberg said, as quoted by CBS News. CBS also reported that even surplus bagels are no longer permitted as donations to food shelters.

CBS story link at:
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Rasmussen Reports has run a telephone survey on banning donated food…

82% Oppose Ban on Donating
Food to Homeless Shelters
Monday, March 26, 2012

Americans nationwide strongly oppose a policy similar to the one New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg enacted that bans food donations to homeless shelters.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults shows that only nine percent (9%) favor a policy that forbids people from donating food to the homeless in their communities. Most adults (82%) oppose such a ban. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

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Blog Author's Comment

If you think that ban against donated food to shelters is insipid and inhumane, get a load of this. Decades ago, medical doctors were told that if they accept Medicare patients and therefore Medicare payments for their services, then they must charge everyone and completely cease free assistance to anyone.  My own doctor told me that news.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's the Worst Quality in a Boss?

By Chad Brooks, LiveScience, March 27, 2012

The worst quality in a boss is arrogance, employees say. Good bosses, on the other hand, are deemed trustworthy.

That's the finding of a new study that examines the defining characteristics of employees' best and worst bosses. The study also found that bad leaders are most often described as arrogant.

Other qualities that lead to a worker’s dislike of their supervisor are being manipulative, emotionally volatile, micromanaging, passive-aggressive and distrustful of others.

The average employee would be willing to return to work with fewer than half of their former bosses, the study showed.

Great bosses, conversely, were most often described as trustworthy, responsible, inspirational and tactful, with the ability to remain calm under pressure.

With past research showing more than half of leaders will fail, Natalie Tracy, director of marketing for Hogan Assessment Systems, which conducted the research, said it's important to understand what makes employees love or despise their managers.

"Poor leadership causes reduced engagement, increased turnover and even poor health among employees," Tracy said. "With a better understanding of what separates good leaders from bad, organizations can take a closer look at who is in charge."

Regardless of who is in charge, the study discovered that employees find it important to like their boss and consider it just as essential that their boss likes them.

The study by personality research and leadership development firm Hogan Assessment Systems was based on surveys of 1,000 employees.

This story was provided by
BusinessNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Some Deepwater Horizon Oil Entered the Food Chain

Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science reported on January 7 of 2010 that zooplankton have eaten much of the plume of spilled oil from the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers from East Carolina University and the University of Maryland formed a research team able to match a "fingerprint" of Macondo oil through certain aromatic hydrocarbons that are present. The team’s results were published in Geographical Research Letters.
Details at:

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"Within four months of the oil spill, bacterial blooms had removed more than 200,000 metric tons of
dissolved methane, returning concentrations to normal background levels.

"That was a surprise, because in mid-June, scientists found methane concentrations nearly 100,000 times above normal levels, and learned it was decomposing slowly, suggesting it would take years for the hydrocarbon to dissipate."


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"Remember how we also told you about the added variable of politics and money? This finding was partly
funded by research dollars from BP. The funds were from an existing 10-year BP grant and have nothing to do with the oil spill, though.

"Hazen, with Berkeley Lab’s earth sciences division, said the bacteria are adapted to break down oil at very cold temperatures, which was somewhat surprising. It’s the first time anyone has ever studied microbial degradation at such depths."

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Some oil accumulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico:

The blog author cannot ascertain a reliable study showing that microbes have or have not further degraded this accumulation.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What Your Eyes Say About Your Health

By Kristen Dold
Tue, Mar 20, 2012

Even if you boast 20/20, you should pay a visit to an eye-care specialist. "The eyes are one place in the body through which we can actually see veins and arteries firsthand, with no surgery or cameras," says Shantan Reddy, M.D., an ophthalmologist and retinal specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center. That's why an eye doctor may be the first to detect a serious health problem such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

One example: 65 percent of the time, eye doctors can spot signs of a patient's high cholesterol before any other health-care provider (the condition shows up as yellowish plaques within the retinal blood vessels).
Behold, surprising health cues your eyes give away.


Eye Cue: Silver-or copper-colored arteries

Red Flag For: High blood pressureMore than 20 percent of people with high blood pressure don't know they have it—a problem that could be solved if everyone visited their eye doctor more often. "We can see hypertension through the eyes because it gives retinal arteries a silver or copper hue that we call copper wiring," says Reddy. If left untreated, the condition can cause blood vessels in the retina and throughout the body to harden, increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke.

Eye Cue: A mole on the eye's inner layer

Red Flag For: MelanomaSunlight can wreak havoc on more than your skin—it may increase the risk of developing cancer inside the eyeball. "The cancer can look like little raised surfaces or moles in the pigment layer of the retina," says ophthalmologist Sophie J. Bakri, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Diagnosing an eye melanoma early is crucial, she says; it often has no other symptoms and can quickly metastasize to surrounding tissues.

Eye Cue: Leaky blood vessels

Red Flag For: DiabetesHigh blood sugar can clog or damage retinal blood vessels over time, rendering them weak and porous. Eye doctors can often spot the seepage or the new, abnormal blood vessels that sprout up to replace faulty ones. Indeed, diabetes takes a big toll on the eyes in general and can lead to blindness in serious cases.

Eye Cue: Inflammation

Red Flag For: Autoimmune diseaseAutoimmune conditions can cause the body to attack healthy cells and tissues (including those within the eyes), leading to inflammation. The process can lead to "If we see inflammation inside swollen ocular surface blood the eye, 30 to 50 percent of vessels and red, itchy, watery the time that patient will have some sort of undiagnosed autoimmune disease, like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis," says Bakri. Another related symptom? Severely dry eyes, the result of compromised tear glands.

Eye Cue: Interior blisters

Red Flag For: CSRIt sounds gross, but you can get blisters inside your eyeballs. The condition, called central serous retinopathy (CSR), is typically caused by excessive mental or emotional stress, which can tax the body so much that the retina starts to leak blister-forming fluid. "Eye doctors used to know CSR as a disease of stressed men with type-A personalities, but an increasing number of women are being diagnosed," says Bakri. The most common symptom is that patients may also have blurry vision or see wavy lines when trying to focus on a set point. In many cases, CSR can be alleviated by slashing stress levels; but if not, patients may be helped by laser treatment.

Eye Cue: Swollen blood vessels on the white part of eye

Red Flag For: AllergiesAirborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and animal dander often affect the eyes. As a protective mechanism, your peepers secrete anti-inflammatory histamines and other natural chemicals—but not without side effects. The process can lead to swollen ocular surface blood vessels and red, itchy, watery eyes visible to you, your eye doctor, and everyone else. For a proper diagnosis, though, do see an M.D.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Academic Pillow Fight over Free Will

Is Free Will an Illusion? Scientists, Philosophers Forced to Differ

By Natalie Wolchover | March 21, 2012

Are you really in control, or is your every decision predetermined? Who's at the steering wheel: you, your genes, your upbringing, fate, karma, God?

A hot topic for several thousand years, the question of whether free will exists may never be settled to everyone's satisfaction. But in a series of new articles for the Chronicles of Higher Education, six academics from diverse fields offer fresh perspectives from the standpoints of modern neuroscience and philosophy. Ultimately, they voted 4-2 in favor of the position that free will is merely an illusion.

The four scientists on the panel denied the existence of free will, arguing that human behavior is governed by the brain, which is itself controlled by each person's genetic blueprint built upon by his or her life experiences. Meanwhile, the two philosophers cast the dissenting votes, arguing that free will is perfectly compatible with the discoveries of neuroscience.

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, defined free will as the possibility that, after making a decision, you could have chosen otherwise. But a "decision," Coyne argues, is merely a series of electrical and chemical impulses between molecules in the brain — molecules whose configuration is predetermined by genes and environment. Though each decision is the outcome of an immensely complicated series of chemical reactions, those reactions are governed by the laws of physics and could not possibly turn out differently. "Like the output of a programmed computer, only one choice is ever physically possible: the one you made," Coyne wrote.

The three other scientists concurred with Coyne's viewpoint. As Owen Jones, a professor of law and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, put it in his essay: "Will is as free as lunch. (If you doubt, just try willing yourself out of love, lust, anger, or jealousy)."

Though everyone must be held accountable for his or her actions, neuroscience and the nonexistence of free will should be factored into some criminal cases, the scholars argued.

A counterargument came from Hilary Bok, a philosopher at the Johns Hopkins University, who said scientists misunderstand the question of free will when they argue that decisions are governed by the activity of brain cells. Free will, in her opinion, is being capable of stepping back from one's existing motivations and habits and making a reasoned decision among various alternatives. "The claim that a person chose her action does not conflict with the claim that some neural processes or states caused it; it simply redescribes it," she wrote.
Alfred Mele, another philosopher at Florida State University, also believes the concept of free will is compatible with the findings of neuroscience. He cited a 2008 study in which volunteers were asked to push either of two buttons. According to the study, brain activity up to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously reached revealed which button the volunteer was more likely to press.

Though the study is widely viewed as evidence against free will, Mele pointed out that the study participants' brain activity accurately predicted their eventual decision only 60 percent of the time. In his view, this suggests people can consciously choose to override their brains' predispositions.

Therefore, he wrote, "I do not recommend betting the farm on the nonexistence of free will."

Blog Author's Comments

It interests me that the scientists think free will is an illusion.  I also am impressed with the asininity of the argument that lack of control over emotions means lack of any significant control over any decision ever made.  This is an argument that free will doesn't exist because people can and do lose control of their emotions.

I suggest that the truth lies along the lines that intense passion and intense dispassion both exist. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Woman Faces Jail For Lying to Avoid Jury Duty

Woman Admits Faking Mental

Illness to Avoid Jury Duty;

Now Charged with Perjury

By Eric Pfeiffer, The Side Show, March 22, 2012

What was once merely a gag on the television comedy "30 Rock" has become a reality, after a Denver woman faked a mental illness to avoid jury duty.

Denver's 9News reports that Susan Cole, 57, faces charges of perjury after she admitted to faking the mental illness during an interview with a local talk-radio show. "I am embarrassed I did it. I didn't mean to harm the judge. I really felt bad she interpreted this," Cole said, after admitting she "deliberately dressed in a disheveled and uncoordinated fashion," and was excused from jury duty in July 2011.

But Cole's deception went beyond merely wearing mismatched clothes. And the evidence suggests she hasn't stopped lying to authorities. Cole also told the court she was suffering from PTSD. "I broke out of domestic violence in the military. And I have a lot of repercussions. One is post-traumatic stress disorder," the court reporter's records show Cole saying. "My military records are now missing. I have lived on the street, and I have worked myself up to living with my cousin."

Cole then recounted her hoax during an October 17, 2011, interview on the Dave Logan Show. Ironically, the judge Cole had lied to about her condition was listening to the program when Cole explained what she had done. Cole has since admitted lying to the judge but attempted to explain her motivation for lying by saying she slept in late during the day she was scheduled to appear in court and was "distraught" over a motorcycle accident that had recently occurred near her home. She also claims to actually be suffering from PTSD from both an "abusive marriage" and her previous alleged traumatic military experience. The U.S. Army says it has no records verifying Cole's claims. And Cole's divorce records reportedly do not contain any evidence, or even allegations, of physical or mental abuse

"The defense will have to show that she did not knowingly lie about a material fact. Bragging about getting out of jury duty is a little bit like being proud of not voting or cheating on your taxes," 9News Legal Analyst Scott Robinson told the station.

Note by the Blog Author

The right to a fair trial by jury is superior to all other individual rights.  Therefore, a citizen does not have the right to evade jury duty on false pretenses.  "Throw the book at her" pour encourager les autres.

Additionally, the woman deserves jail time for personal stupidity.  Yakking about her fibs to avoid jury duty on television!  Some people are so dumb they should be locked up.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Heightened Solar Activity Through 2013

Solar Storm Dumps Gigawatts
into Earth's Upper Atmosphere

By Dr. Tony Phillips, NASA, March 22, 2012 |
A recent flurry of eruptions on the sun did more than spark pretty auroras around the poles. NASA-funded researchers say the solar storms of March 8th through 10th dumped enough energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere to power every residence in New York City for two years.

"This was the biggest dose of heat we’ve received from a solar storm since 2005," says Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley Research Center. "It was a big event, and shows how solar activity can directly affect our planet."

Mlynczak is the associate principal investigator for the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite. SABER monitors infrared emissions from Earth’s upper atmosphere, in particular from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air hundreds of km above our planet’s surface.

"Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are natural thermostats," explains James Russell of Hampton University, SABER’s principal investigator. "When the upper atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) heats up, these molecules try as hard as they can to shed that heat back into space."

That’s what happened on March 8th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled in our direction by an X5-class solar flare hit Earth’s magnetic field. (On the "Richter Scale of Solar Flares," X-class flares are the most powerful kind.) Energetic particles rained down on the upper atmosphere, depositing their energy where they hit. The action produced spectacular auroras around the poles and significant upper atmospheric heating all around the globe.

"The thermosphere lit up like a Christmas tree," says Russell. "It began to glow intensely at infrared wavelengths as the thermostat effect kicked in."

For the three day period, March 8th through 10th, the thermosphere absorbed 26 billion kWh of energy. Infrared radiation from CO2 and NO, the two most efficient coolants in the thermosphere, re-radiated 95% of that total back into space.

In human terms, this is a lot of energy. According to the New York City mayor’s office, an average NY household consumes just under 4700 kWh annually. This means the geomagnetic storm dumped enough energy into the atmosphere to power every home in the Big Apple for two years.

"Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to harness this kind of energy," says Mlynczak. "It’s so diffuse and out of reach high above Earth’s surface. Plus, the majority of it has been sent back into space by the action of CO2 and NO."

During the heating impulse, the thermosphere puffed up like a marshmallow held over a campfire, temporarily increasing the drag on low-orbiting satellites. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, extra drag helps clear space junk out of Earth orbit. On the other hand, it decreases the lifetime of useful satellites by bringing them closer to the day of re-entry.

The storm is over now, but Russell and Mlynczak expect more to come.

"We’re just emerging from a deep solar minimum," says Russell. "The solar cycle is gaining strength with a maximum expected in 2013."

More sunspots flinging more CMEs toward Earth adds up to more opportunities for SABER to study the heating effect of solar storms.

"This is a new frontier in the sun-Earth connection," says Mlynczak, and the data we’re collecting are unprecedented."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Isle Royale Wolves Are Dying Off

Only nine wolves remain at Isle Royale National Park, an island chain in western Lake Superior, John Flesher reports for the Associated Press. Only one is a female. As recently as 2009, there were 24 wolves.

There is a shortage of females and several packs have broken down in a way that increased inbreeding.

There have been disease breakouts as well as a decrease in the number of moose, a primary food source. The previous low number of wolves was 12 after a parvovirus outbreak in the 1980s.

The National Park Service can introduce new wolves to mix with the remaining animals, let them die off and then replace them, or leave the wolves alone and observe the situation.

Scientists conjecture that the first moose swam to Isle Royale early in the 20th century and began eating the
underbrush in a way that disturbed the trees, seriously altering the environment. The wolves arrived around 1950, eventually forming packs that kept the moose in check.

Visitors enjoy hearing, though rarely seeing the wolves, which are much studied and are perhaps the only place where humans have never killed them.

Wolf experts are hoping that the remaining female will give birth to a healthy litter of pups this year. Moose numbers have increased from 515 last year to about 750, but there is a shortage of elderly moose, the easiest for wolves to kill.

One male wolf is believed to have crossed an ice bridge in the late 1990s, helping to reinvigorate the gene pool, but the island wolves are nearly completely cut off from contact with outside contact.

Controversy exists between the alternatives of passive observation or introducing new wolves right away. The notion of allowing the wolves to disappear permanently is disfavored because of the effects of moose overpopulation on the forest environment.

Summarized from:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NASA Finds Extremely Energetic Photons

March 16, 2012: The human eye is crucial to astronomy. Without the ability to see, the luminous universe of stars, planets and galaxies would be closed to us, unknown forever. Nevertheless, astronomers cannot shake their fascination with the invisible.

Outside the realm of human vision is an entire electromagnetic spectrum of wonders. Each type of light--­from radio waves to gamma-rays--reveals something unique about the universe. Some wavelengths are best for studying black holes; others reveal newborn stars and planets; while others illuminate the earliest years of cosmic history.

NASA has many telescopes "working the wavelengths" up and down the electromagnetic spectrum. One of them, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope orbiting Earth, has just crossed a new electromagnetic frontier.

"Fermi is picking up crazy-energetic photons," says Dave Thompson, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "And it's detecting so many of them we've been able to produce the first all-sky map of the very high energy universe."

"This is what the sky looks like near the very edge of the electromagnetic spectrum, between 10 billion and 100 billion electron volts."

The light we see with human eyes consists of photons with energies in the range 2 to 3 electron volts. The gamma-rays Fermi detects are billions of times more energetic, from 20 million to more than 300 billion electron volts. These gamma-ray photons are so energetic, they cannot be guided by the mirrors and lenses found in ordinary telescopes. Instead Fermi uses a sensor that is more like a Geiger counter than a telescope.

If we could wear Fermi's gamma ray "glasses," we'd witness powerful bullets of energy – individual gamma rays – from cosmic phenomena such as supermassive black holes and hypernova explosions. The sky would be a frenzy of activity.

Before Fermi was launched in June 2008, there were only four known celestial sources of photons in this energy range. "In 3 years Fermi has found almost 500 more," says Thompson.
What lies within this new realm?

"Mystery, for one thing," says Thompson. "About a third of the new sources can't be clearly linked to any of the known types of objects that produce gamma rays. We have no idea what they are."

The rest have one thing in common: prodigious energy.

"Among them are super massive black holes called blazars; the seething remnants of supernova explosions; and rapidly rotating neutron stars called pulsars."

And some of the gamma rays seem to come from the 'Fermi bubbles' – giant structures emanating from the Milky Way's center and spanning some 20,000 light years above and below the galactic plane.

Exactly how these bubbles formed is another mystery.

Now that the first sky map is complete, Fermi is working on another, more sensitive and detailed survey.

"In the next few years, Fermi should reveal something new about all of these phenomena, what makes them tick, and why they generate such 'unearthly' levels of energy," says David Paneque, a leader in this work from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

For now, though, there are more unknowns than knowns about "Fermi's world."

Says Thompson: "It's pretty exciting!"

Authors: Dauna Coulter, Dr. Tony Phillips

Monday, March 19, 2012

Negative Quiddity: California Debt

Is California the next Greece?

By The Week's Editorial Staff | The Week – Thu, Mar 15, 2012

The Golden State used to be at the vanguard of the U.S. economy. Now, not so much.

"California is no longer the economic miracle it once was," says Bradley Schiller at the Los Angeles Times. Americans used to flock to the Golden State for its peerless standard of living and great schools. But now many businesses are packing up and moving out.

California's unemployment rate, at 10.9%, is the third-highest in the country. Many of its cities are declaring bankruptcy. And the state budget, for the ninth time in 10 years, is billions of dollars in the red. "Many Americans fear the federal fiscal train wreck will turn us into Greece," say Michael J. Boskin and John F. Cogan at The Wall Street Journal. But "they need look no further than California to see what this future portends."

Why is California on the ropes?

1.  Its taxes are too high

The climate for businesses in California has "turned hostile," says Investor's Business Daily in an editorial.  Taxes are far too high, leading businesses to leave the state at a rate of five per week. California has the third-highest income tax rate in the country, the highest sales tax, and the second-highest gas tax. All told, businesses save "20 percent to 40 percent in costs" when they move out of the state, according to one study.

2. Its environmental policies are unreasonable

California's energy policies are just "bizarre," says Bill Frezza at RealClearMarkets. In its push to lead the fight against global warming, the state has "virtually shut down fossil fuel production." Once a major oil producer, California's production has declined "by more than 30 percent over the past 20 years," depriving the state of much-needed revenue. Meanwhile, it's pumping billions of dollars into green energy projects — such as a $100 billion high speed rail line — that are bound to bleed money.

3. It spends way too much

California has one of the strongest social safety nets in the country, says Schiller, and "many Californians take pride" in that. However, the state's generous minimum-wage thresholds and high rates of unionization can drive businesses away. "Californians tend to be complacent about these competitive risks," but they shouldn't be. They're part of the reason California is currently ranked 34th in GDP growth among the states.

4. It just needs to get its house in order

"No one should write off California," say Boskin and Cogan. The state faces daunting challenges, and has to reform deep structural flaws. But it still "ranks first in technology, agriculture, and entertainment among the 50 states." To survey the state's economic situation, is to appreciate the "the agony and ecstasy of contemporary California."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Inflation and Slow Growth Predicted

PIMCO’s Bill Gross: QE3, Inflation,
Muted Growth on the Way
By Daniel Gross, March 16, 2012

Another round (or two) of quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve, muted growth and an end to the 30-year bull run in government bonds.

That's what Bill Gross, one of the largest bond investors in the world, sees for the U.S. economy in the coming year. Gross is co-chief investment officer of PIMCO, the giant asset managers whose Total Return Fund is the largest bond mutual fund with current assets of about $250 billion.

Gross says long-term interest rates have been rising in recent weeks (here's a chart of the 10-year U.S. bond) for two principal reasons. "Yes, inflation is rearing its head. We're seeing that in oil prices and other commodities, and we're seeing it in the numbers," he said. The consumer price index has risen 2.9% in the past 12 months. In addition, Gross says, the Federal Reserve's "Operation Twist" is scheduled to end in a few months. Under this plan, the Fed sold short-term debt and purchased long-term bonds in an effort to keep longer-term interest rates lower. At its meeting earlier this week, the Fed indicated that it didn't plan to extend the operation. "Yields have risen based upon the possibility that the Fed simply stops buying long-term bonds," he said. "If they do that, the question becomes, who is left?"

Despite the Fed's communiqué earlier this week, Gross doesn't believe the central bank's interventions in the bond markets are over. In two rounds of quantitative easing (QE), the Federal Reserve printed money to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. "I believe there will be a QE3, and perhaps a QE4," he said. Why? In the past few years, whenever central banks have stopped or paused their quantitative easing efforts, "stock prices have fallen and economies have slowed." The globe's private economies simply aren't sufficiently strong enough to support robust growth, and the world's central banks aren't willing to stand by and watch. "That's not a policy recommendation, it's simply a realization that the substitution of central bank monetary purchases will continue for a long time, as long as they [central banks] try to support private economies on a global basis," Gross said.

When Gross talks, the market tends to listen. But not all his calls are prophetic. A year ago, Gross famously said the Total Return Fund wouldn't hold Treasuries, as PIMCO deemed the risks of higher budget deficits and potential inflation not worth the paltry rewards bonds were offering. Of course, in the months after that highly public move, interest rates continued to fall and the value of U.S. government bonds broadly rose.

"Obviously, I wish I could take that back," Gross says. The Total Return Fund missed out on a healthy chunk of last year's bond rally. But since last fall, Gross notes, "we basically gained all of that back, and the Total Return Fund is back on track of producing" positive returns. "But yeah, those were rather grim months for us." (On Thursday, Gross also spoke with my Breakout colleague Jeff Macke about PIMCO's new Total Return ETF.

Still, Gross believes the 30-year long bull run for bonds may be coming to an end. "We're certainly close and have been close for a number of months," he said. It's very difficult to imagine interest rates going lower. "The bond market, whether it's Treasuries, mortgages, or investment-grade bonds in combination, basically yield a little higher than 2%," Gross said. "And unless the U.S. economy replicates Japan, where yields are down to 1% on average, then you'd have to say that we're close to the bottom in terms of yield." He adds: "It doesn't mean the beginning of a bear market, but it does suggest at least that the great bond bull market since 1981 is probably over."

Recent market activity in some bonds certainly ratifies that view. In recent weeks, the yield on the 10-year Treasury has risen from about 1.8% in late January to about 2.28% on Thursday. But "those yields aren't attractive," Gross says. Currently, about 15-20% of the Total Return Fund's portfolio is in Treasuries. Gross recommends that investors avoid longer-term bonds — i.e. 10-year and 30-year bonds — whose prices may fall if long-term growth and inflation expectations rise. However, they should also avoid short-term bonds. "The Fed has conditionally guaranteed that they won't be raising interest rates until late 2014, and that's almost three years from now." Gross believes that bonds that mature in five, six, or seven years occupy the sweet spot in today's market.

Bond holders tend to fear strong growth because it has the potential to ignite inflation and boost interest rates, thus reducing their returns. Gross says that while the economy has improved, it shows no signs of overheating. He believes the U.S. economy is growing at about a 2% annual rate in the first quarter "and probably beyond." That's about as good as can be hoped for. While the Federal Reserve has injected close to $1 trillion into the U.S. economy in the past year, growth is in large measure tied to what happens in the global economy. And the omens from abroad aren't particularly good. "China is slowing and the euro land is in recession," Gross said. The U.S. is growing at a decent clip, "what we call a new normal, but it probably won't get back to the 3 or 4% real growth numbers that we witnessed over the past decades."

Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance

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Comments by the Blog Author

Bill Gross is saying a) the bull market in bonds since 1981 is over and b) US growth will be about 2% in the perpetual future [and that is not enough to knock down unemployment! That is not enough to offer good wages to blue-collar America, so social stratification will continue]. c) Commodities and ETF’s, anyone, as money-makers?!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Suspected Military Mass Murderer Whisked Away

On March 15th, upset that the staff sergeant who was arrested for 16 civilian serial killings in Afghanistan was not being tried on site by a field court martial, I sent the email below to a friend who teaches English in mainland China:

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Obama and [the American] Afghan military commanders have removed the suspect of 16 killings and planted him in Kuwait.

Big mistake.

He should have a FIELD COURT MARTIAL and, if found guilty, face a firing squad of American and Afghan soldiers with the head of the Afghan civil government looking on and Al Jazeera covering the story live for the Arab world.

What's left of this phony "alliance" between the US and the puppet government in Kabul has been blown wide open.

Bring him back from Kuwait, give him a firing squad, and then get everybody out. The game is over.


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My friend teaching English in China fired back an email suggesting that the USA is becoming more and more like the Roman Empire and less and less like a republic.

Then the Kuwaitis got fed up with holding on to this alleged Muslim murderer! So he was hustled on to a plane to Leavenworth, Kansas. Then I got a new email from a friend who spent three years working in Kuwait and has returned to the states. He didn’t like the apprehended suspect leaving Afghanistan nor going to Kuwait nor being spirited back to the United States. And he sent me this link, to an English-language Arab international newspaper….

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The blog author is a lifelong student of military history, a Vietnam veteran, and has served as a juror on a court martial.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Machine Erases Laser Printing from Paper

By Trevor Mogg, Digital Trends, March 16, 2012

For people working in offices, the sound of the laser printer kicking into action will be a familiar one. A day won’t go by without the machine cranking into action, delivering sheet after sheet of warm, freshly printed paper. Of all those printed sheets, many will — even before the working day is over — end up in a box marked ‘recycle’. That’s all well and good, but if only there was an easier and more environmentally friendly way of using the paper again without having to send it away to be pulped.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK may have found a clever solution. They claim to have developed a way of removing ink from printed paper using a laser-based technique.

According to a New Scientist report, the paper looks as good as new following the process, with no noticeable degradation having taken place.

One of the scientists involved in the research, David Leal-Ayala, explained to the New Scientist that the laser-based method vaporizes the toner. The challenge was to find the appropriate energy level for the laser — one that would remove the ink but wasn’t so strong that it damaged the paper. After much experimentation, the team managed to achieve their objective.

"We have repeated the printing/unprinting process three times on the same piece of paper with good results," Leal-Ayala said. "The more you do it, though, the more likely it is for the laser to damage the paper, perhaps yellowing it."

The New Scientist’s report points out that while Japanese scientists at Toshiba have also developed a machine which can remove ink from paper, it only works with a special blue toner made by the company. The Cambridge scientists, on the other hand, have managed to develop a non-abrasive method which does away with the need for chemical solvents.

Speaking about the Japanese company’s technology, Julian Allwood, the Cambridge team’s project supervisor, said "Toshiba have been selling the ‘e-blue’ toner for a while which, like old thermal fax paper, fades under the right type of light. However that, of course, applies only if you buy their magic toner."

He continued, "Our ambition was to develop a method that would remove conventional toner from conventional paper in order to allow re-use of the paper. Toshiba’s is a different approach to the same problem."

The Cambridge scientists hope to build a prototype of their invention for use in offices. If successful, it could help to cut down on carbon emissions by up to 80 percent over recycling — as well as time wasted in offices looking for blank sheets of paper.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Honest Man Leaves Goldman Sachs

Greg Smith worked for Goldman Sachs for twelve years and left the organization yesterday, March 14, 2012. He was an executive director and head of the firm’s U.S. derivatives business for Europe, Africa and Asia. In departing, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times explaining his decision.

His motive for leaving was that the investment bank did not put the interests of the client first in this modern world of derivatives and exotic financial instruments. A tradition of working for the maximum benefit of the client has eroded to a quaint story about the past.

Involved in Goldman’s personnel selection process and interviews, he saw the emphasis move to the aggressiveness of the candidates rather than their sense of ethics and moral fiber. With clients having an asset base of over one trillion dollars, Smith found it hard to continue with the organization.

Smith’s view is that the Goldman Sachs definition of leadership changed. It used to be about ideas, setting an example and proper actions. But now it is all about making enough money for the firm – by selling the
clients assets Goldman wants to get rid of, by trading to clients whatever makes the most money for

Goldman, and by getting involved with derivatives, which is a high-profit instrument.
Smith writes, "If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are."

Comments on Smith’s article are available at:

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Blog Author’s Comments

There are a couple of things the comments missed – important things – excluded from both the positive and negative comments.

Derivatives are an entirely synthetic type of instrument, designed from the inception to bilk clients for high banking fees to cover legal contracts involving highly unlikely future events. The bible for this story remains Richard Bookstaber’s A Demon of our Own Design (Wiley, 2007). Through derivatives and other high-risk (and high profit) shenanigans, Goldman Sachs mismanaged and bankrupted Montana Power, back in the days before the 2008 crisis. Greg Smith should have known about these capers and mediated upon them.

Derivatives offer quasi-insurance, without an actual insurance policy, without any requirement for reserves, and without any guarantee other than that offered by the financial entity (like Goldman Sachs) which is not a reinsurer but a "counterparty." In Europe, Smith’s territory, banks have reserves of only 1:61 or lower, a big factor in why every headline out of Athens, Greece, causes worldwide financial upset.

Derivatives mutate and are offered in new forms as frequently as possible – this dazzles the clients and avoids regulation. But it also makes it hard for even the offerer to establish the odds of default falling upon the counterparty. This happened in 2008 and the investment banks ran for federal government protection. Greg Smith needs to know that this irresponsibility is the chief ethical issue for Goldman Sachs, not simply the ripping off of clients.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica Goes 100% Digital

Encyclopaedia Britannica continues in digital form – but not as a set of books

Caryn Rousseau of the Associated Press reported today from Chicago that the 244 year old printed edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has been discontinued. First published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1768, the presses have stopped and the printed set of 32 volumes will no longer be printed. The top year for sales was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold. The number shriveled to just 40,000 by 1996.

Britannica is not going out of business. Digital versions will continue with continuous updates. The first CD/ROM version was made available in 1989, and the encyclopedia when online in 1994. Executives deny that Google or Wikipedia are the cause for ending the print edition. The digital version simply outsells the old printed product. And readers can add their own comments to the digital entries.

Britannica also claims an impressive array of contributors and editors, giving it a sterling reputation for accuracy and completeness.
Summarized from:;_ylt=ApbM3tNMlXQb21fz9iHc1Eys0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTRhdDdlYXAwBG1pdANTZWN0aW9uTGlzdCBGUCBUZWNobm9sb2d5BHBrZwM2M2IzMTc3YS02N2EyLTNjZGQtYjYyYy1iODhjMTRjZjg1ZmEEcG9zAzIEc2VjA01lZGlhU2VjdGlvbkxpc3QEdmVyA2ViN2E1ZTRmLTZkZTEtMTFlMS1iZTVjLTY4M2YzMTNjNzhjMg--;_ylg=X3oDMTFrM25vcXFyBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnMEdGVzdAM-;_ylv=3

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The Encyclopedia Britannica
Editors Have Their Say

"That big print set will pass into history, but the future it gives way to will be bright.

"For 244 years, the thick volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica have stood on the shelves of homes, libraries, and businesses everywhere, a source of enlightenment as well as comfort to their owners and users around the world.

"They’ve always been there. Year after year. Since 1768. Every. Single. Day.
But not forever.

"Today we’ve announced that we will discontinue the 32-volume printed edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica when our current inventory is gone.

"A momentous event? In some ways, yes; the set is, after all, nearly a quarter of a millennium old. But in a larger sense this is just another historical data point in the evolution of human knowledge.

"For one thing, the encyclopedia will live on—in bigger, more numerous, and more vibrant digital forms. And just as important, we the publishers are poised, in the digital era, to serve knowledge and learning in new ways that go way beyond reference works. In fact, we already do….

"While you’re reading, check out Britannica Online, which is entirely free for a full week beginning today."

Verbatim from:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Deep is America's "Great Recession?"

Tide Detergent Being Stolen
From Stores Across the Country

By Melissa Knowles, YahooNewsblog, March 13, 2012

Tide laundry detergent is meant to be used for household cleaning purposes, but thieves are turning it into something dirty. Authorities are reporting a spike in thefts of Tide, and in some cities they are setting up task forces where the detergent is sold to track the number of bottles in stores. Police believe thieves are using the soap on the black market, which retails for $10-$20, to buy drugs. On the black market, Tide is often referred to as "liquid gold" and can go for $5-$10 per bottle.

Last year, in St. Paul, Minnesota, a man is alleged to have stolen $25,000 worth of Tide over 15 months before authorities captured him. Stores such as CVS have amped up security measures to prevent theft; at some locations the detergent is kept in a locked container and an employee must retrieve it for customers.

So why is Tide the only detergent being targeted? Authorities list several reasons: Tide is instantly recognizable because of its Day-Glo orange bottle; it is one of the most expensive brands of laundry detergent; and it does not have serial numbers, so it cannot be tracked.

On social media, people are calling the theft trend "bizarre" and many are blaming it on the tough economy and rising gas prices. One person tweeted that the thefts are " a result of inflation."

A spokesperson for Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of Tide, called the thefts "unfortunate."

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Comments by the Blog Author
The theft and street resale of Tide detergent is consistent with the beginnings of an unofficial American black market by an underclass with no future prospects and no income. Normal theft in an ongoing and working culture consists of very high value items such as luxury goods as well as small items of high value such as cigarettes, distilled spirits, pharmaceuticals and drugs.

What distinguishes this situation is the motives of the thieves stealing Tide. This represents no get rich quick scheme or organized crime. It’s a high risk and low reward crime committed by those with no future and no hope. And thus the present American economic stagnation represents a regression surpassed only by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cheap Space Travel by Magnetic Levitation Train?!

Startram - Maglev Train to Low Earth Orbit

By Brian Dodson

Getting into space is one of the harder tasks to be taken on by humanity. The present cost of inserting a kilogram (2.2 lb) of cargo by rocket into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is about US$10,000. A manned launch to LEO costs about $100,000 per kilogram of passenger. But who says we have to reach orbit by means of rocket propulsion alone? Instead, imagine sitting back in a comfortable magnetic levitation (maglev) train and taking a train ride into orbit.

All right, its not quite that simple or comfortable - but it should be possible using only existing technology.

Dr George Maise invented the Startram orbital launch system along with Dr James Powell, who is one of the inventors of superconducting maglev - for which he won the 2002 Franklin Medal in engineering. Startram is in essence a superconducting maglev launch system.

The system would see a spacecraft magnetically levitated to avoid friction, while the same magnetic system is used to accelerate the spacecraft to orbital velocities - just under 9 km/sec (5.6 miles/s). Maglev passenger trains have carried passengers at nearly 600 kilometers per hour (373 mph) - spacecraft have to be some 50 times faster, but the physics and much of the engineering is the same.

The scope of the project is challenging. A launch system design for routine passenger flight into LEO should have rather low acceleration - perhaps about 3 g's maximum, which then requires 5 minutes of acceleration to reach LEO transfer velocities. In that period, the spacecraft will have traveled 1,000 miles (1,609 km). The maglev track must be 1,000 miles in length - similar in size to maglev train tracks being considered for cross-country transportation.

Like a train, the Startram track can follow the surface of the Earth for most of this length. Side forces associated with the curvature of the surface can be accommodated by the design, but not the drag and sonic shock waves of a craft traveling at hypersonic velocity at sea level - the spacecraft and launching track would be torn to shreds.

To avoid this, the Startram track must be contained inside a vacuum tube with vents to allow air compressed in front of the spacecraft to escape the tube. A vacuum equivalent to atmospheric conditions at an altitude of 75 km (about 0.01 Torr) should suffice for the efficient operation of the Startram launch system. Rapid pumping to achieve this pressure will be provided by a magnetohydrodynamic vacuum pump.

If the entire Startram tube is at sea level, on exiting the tube the spacecraft will suddenly be subjected to several hundred g's due to atmospheric drag - rather like hitting a brick wall. To reduce this effect to a tolerable acceleration, the end of the Startram vacuum tube must be elevated to an altitude of about 20 km (12 miles). At this height, the initial deceleration from atmospheric drag will be less than 3 g's, and will rapidly decrease as the spacecraft reaches higher altitudes.

This new requirement begs the question - how do we hold up the exit end of the Startram vacuum tube?
Well, the tube already contains superconducting cable and rings. Powell and Maise realized that the tube could be magnetically levitated to this altitude. If we arrange that there is a superconducting cable on the ground carrying 200 million amperes, and a superconducting cable in the launch tube carrying 20 million amperes, at an altitude of 20 km there will be a levitating force of about 4 tons per meter of cable length - more than enough to levitate the launch tube.

The vacuum tube would be held down against excess levitation force by high strength tethers. Dyneema (UHMWPE) is more than strong enough for this purpose. Redundant design would make a failure of the levitation system most unlikely.

The Startram launch system contains other technological wonders, such as a plasma window on the exit of the vacuum tube to prevent the inrush of the relatively dense air at that altitude from ruining the vacuum within the tube. However, all the required technology exists and is understood. The only engineering effort involved here is in increasing the scale.

Sandia National Laboratories has carried out a '"murder-squad" investigation of the Startram concept, whose purpose is to find any flaw in a proposed project. They gave Startram a clean bill of health. Estimates suggest that building a passenger-capable Startram would require 20 years and a construction budget (ignoring inflation and overoptimism) of about $60 billion.

Why take on such an enormous project? Simple - $50 per kilogram amortized launch costs. The total worldwide cost of developing and using rocket-based space travel is more than $500 billion. The Space Shuttle program cost about $170 billion. The International Space Station has cost about $150 billion to date.

As yet, we are making very little commercial use of near-Earth space beyond deployment of communication and imaging satellites. Reducing the LEO insertion costs a hundredfold should finally start our commercial exploitation of the special resources of space. Not to mention making orbital hotels a travel goal for middle-class tourists!

Source: Startram

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Children Playing with Fire

Slovak boys light cigarettes, but

doing so burns down a castle

Police are investigating two Slovakian boys, ages 11 and 12, who may have set grass on fire while lighting cigarettes. The grass was at the foot of the Krasna Horka castle. The medieval castle, particularly the roof, caught afire. The building and contents were severely damaged. Eighty-four firefighters were called to the scene in the village of Krasnohorske Podhradie, near Roznava.

Children under the age of 15 cannot be prosecuted in Slovakia. The castle dates from the early 14th century.

Reuters reported on this fire, noting:
"The Slovak National Museum wrote on its Facebook page that damage to the castle was extensive but about 90 percent of historical collections were saved, including contemporary photographs of furnished castle premises from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, oil paintings and various ornaments.

"’The castle's roof burned down completely, as well as the new exhibition in the gothic palace and the bell tower. Three bells melted,’ the museum said."
Summarized from a Reuters article at:;_ylt=AoJb3jn42S6t7fTfvhWq.IWs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTN2cHBiMTRsBG1pdANPZGQgRnJvbnQgUGFnZQRwa2cDYmYzZGRmZDktYTQ4MC0zYWYzLWExOTAtOTk2ZGVkYjJmZjBiBHBvcwMyBHNlYwNNZWRpYVNlY3Rpb25MaXN0BHZlcgNkOWVjYzc4MC02Yjk4LTExZTEtYWZkZi1iN2Y5NDFjNzUxY2M-;_ylg=X3oDMTFrM25vcXFyBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnMEdGVzdAM-;_ylv=3

There is a link to a picture of the castle itself on fire at:;_ylt=AkQdwz5EXyjrwNGmOC5SAbkSH9EA;_ylu=X3oDMTRvNTk1dDEwBG1pdANBcnRpY2xlIFJlbGF0ZWQgQ2Fyb3VzZWwEcGtnAzk4ZDA2Mjk2LTI3YWYtMzJiZS05ODBmLWMyNzc2ZTc1NmQ0NwRwb3MDMQRzZWMDTWVkaWFBcnRpY2xlUmVsYXRlZENhcm91c2VsVGVtcAR2ZXIDNmZhNjM0YjAtNmI5OC0xMWUxLTlmZmYtZTBiMDcyNDEzNTJj;_ylg=X3oDMTM1a2s0aHU5BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDYmYzZGRmZDktYTQ4MC0zYWYzLWExOTAtOTk2ZGVkYjJmZjBiBHBzdGNhdANob21lfG9kZG5ld3MEcHQDc3RvcnlwYWdlBHRlc3QD;_ylv=3

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Wirehead" Technology For Home Use

Transcranial Direct Stimulation works,

and you can try it at home.

Christopher Mims, Technology Review (from MIT) March 8, 2012

It turns out that one of the ways you can speed up a microprocessor -- shoving more current into it -- also works on the human brain. The technique is called Transcranial Direct Stimulation, and while bioerthivcists are debating whether or not it’s ethical touse it to enhance learning in children, hobbyists have figure out how to try it out at home. Think of it as the new Adderrall -- without, apparently, the side effects.

Now, the first thing I have to say in this post about how to overclock your brain with a straightforward 20 minute application of electrical current is DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. The long term effects of tCDS are unknown, and if you mess up and put orders of magnitude more current through your brain than is typically used in tCDS, obviously, you could kill yourself.

Now that we have that out of the way, here's how to try it at home. GoFlow is a startup planning to offer tDCS kits for as little as $99.
Today if you want to buy a tDCS machine it's nearly impossible to find one for less than $600, and you are typically required to have a prescription to order one. We wanted a simpler cheaper option. So we made one.
GoFlow claims that their product can help speed up learning -- an effect that's already been demonstrated by the Air Force and in the lab.
Air Force researchers were delighted recently to learn that they could cut [the time required to train drone pilots] in half by delivering a mild electrical current (two milliamperes of direct current for 30 minutes) to pilot's brains during training sessions on video simulators. There is also evidence that tCDS can induce the state of creative nirvana known as "flow."

When done correctly by a licensed physician, tCDS is safe enough that it's already being used clinically to treat chronic pain. The GoFlow, on the other hand, appears to have been built by undergraduates. Given the (lack of) production values in their promotional video, I'm not all that reassured by the included testimonial from a neuroscience graduate student.

If you can't wait for the GoFlow kids to get their act together, the Journal of Visual Experiments has an elaborate video tutorial demonstrating the finer points of tCDS administration.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Brilliant Military Intelligence

I want to share something with you.  It's called "excellent intelligence."  This is the quality that wins wars and keeps us out of unnecessary wars.  Please take a long, careful look at these two maps -- the present middle east and a stable middle east.  Either we are moving toward the second map, or we are wasting time and lives accomplishing, at best, nothing.

These maps were included in a June, 2006 article in Armed Forces Journal by Ralph Peters.  The maps are still good -- they should be studied when examing modern Iraq, the "Arab Spring" and the current conflict over Iranian nuclear research.

Below is a Wikipedia entry on Peters.

Ralph Peters

Ralph Peters (b. 1952) is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel, novelist and essayist. He has sometimes written under the nom-de-plume Owen Parry.

Early Life and Military Career 

Peters was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Schuylkill Haven. His father was a coal miner and unsuccessful businessman. Peters has written "I am a miner's son, and my father was a self-made man who unmade himself in my youth."

Peters enlisted in the Army as a private, and spent ten years in Germany working in military intelligence. Years later, during the 2004 Killian documents controversy, Peters pointed out that in his front-line division in 1977, five years after the memos in question were allegedly written, only the general's secretary had an electric typewriter. It was, he says, too primitive to produce the documents in question, and moreover, National Guard units "…got the junk we didn't want."

After returning from Germany, Peters attended Officer Candidate School and received his commission, eventually attending the Command and General Staff College. His last assignment was to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. He retired in 1998 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Peters has appeared on PBS, FOX News, CNN and other networks with commentary on military issues and current affairs.

Peters's first novel was Bravo Romeo, a spy thriller set in former West Germany. His novels progressed from futuristic scenarios involving the Red Army to contemporary terrorism and failed state issues. His characters are often presented as military mavericks who have the clairvoyance and courage to tackle problems others can't or won't.

His latest book is titled Never Quit the Fight, and was released on July 10, 2006.

Opinion on the Iraq war

Peters was a strong supporter of the 2003 invasion and ongoing war in Iraq. Defending the war from critics who claimed that Iraq was descending into civil war, he authored a March 5, 2006 piece in the New York Post entitled Dude, Where's My Civil War?, in which he wrote:

I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it...The Iraqi Army has confounded its Western critics, performing extremely well last week. And the people trust their new army to an encouraging degree. Claims that Iraq was descending into civil war, he wrote, were the politically motivated claims of "irresponsible journalists" who have "staked their reputations on Iraq's failure."
However, six months later, in an interview with magazine, the triumphalism that had informed his writing on Iraq for years was gone. He said:

civil war is closer than it was...The leaders squabble, the death squads rule the neighborhoods. [1] While it would be "too early to walk away from Iraq", the fate of the country was threatened by the US's failure after the invasion to provide adequate troop levels to maintain order, as well as "the Arab genius for screwing things up." On November 2, 2006, he wrote in USA Today:

Iraq is failing. No honest observer can conclude otherwise. Even six months ago, there was hope. Now the chances for a democratic, unified Iraq are dwindling fast ... Iraq could have turned out differently. It didn't. And we must be honest about it. We owe that much to our troops. They don't face the mere forfeiture of a few congressional seats but the loss of their lives. Our military is now being employed for political purposes. It's unworthy of our nation.[2] In this piece he also speculates that "only a military coup — which might come in the next few years — could hold the artificial country together" and that [i]t appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. Following the 2006 US Congressional election, Peters wrote:

It's going to be hard. The political aim of the Democrats will be to continue talking a good game while avoiding responsibility through '08. They'll send up bills they know Bush will veto. And they'll struggle to hide the infighting in their own ranks - Dem unity on this war is about as solid as the unity of Iraq. Now that they've won on the issue, the Dems would like Iraq to just go away. But it won't. And they've got to avoid looking weak on defense, so the military will get more money for personnel, at least. But we won't get a comprehensive plan to deal with Iraq or, for that matter, our global struggle with Islamist terrorists. No matter how many troops we send, we're bound to fail if the troops aren't allowed to fight - under the leadership of combat commanders, not politically attuned bureaucrats in uniform. At present, neither party's leaders want to face the truth about warfare - that it can't be done on the cheap and that war can't be waged without shedding blood. [3] He recently suggested that the borders in the middle east must be redrawn as he suggests in the above map.


  1. Never Quit the Fight. Frontpage (August 2, 2006).
  2. Last Gasps in Iraq. USA Today (November 2, 2006).
  3. New Iraq Risks: What the Election Means (November 9[2006]).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Positive Quiddity: the ethical quality of Phronesis


Phronēsis (Greek: φρόνησις) is an Ancient Greek ford for wisdom or intelligence which is a common topic of discussion in philosophy. In Aristotelian Ethics, for example in the Nicomachean Ethics it is distinguished from other words for wisdom as the virtue of practical thought, and is usually translated "practical wisdom", sometimes (more traditionally) as "prudence", from Latin prudentia. Phronesis is also sometimes spelled Fronesis.

Related concepts


In Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between two intellectual virtues which are sometimes translated as "wisdom": sophia and phronesis. Sophia (sometimes translated as "theoretical wisdom") is a combination of nous, the ability to discern reality, and epistēmē, a type of knowledge which is logically built up, and teachable, and which is sometimes equated with science. Sophia, in other words, involves reasoning concerning universal truths. Phronesis also combines a capability of rational thinking, with a type of knowledge. On the one hand it requires the capability to rationally consider actions which can deliver desired effects. Aristotle says that phronesis is not simply a skill (technē), however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine good ends consistent with the aim of living well overall. Aristotle points out that although sophia is higher and more serious than phronesis, the highest pursuit of wisdom and happiness requires both, because phronesis facilitates sophia. He also associates phronesis with political ability.



According to Aristotle' theory on rhetoric phronesis is one of the three types of appeal to character (ethos). The other two are respectively appeals to arete (virtue) and eunoia (goodwill).
Gaining phronesis requires maturation, in Aristotle's thought:

 "Whereas young people become accomplished in geometry and mathematics, and wise within these limits, prudent young people do not seem to be found. The reason is that prudence is concerned with particulars as well as universals, and particulars become known from experience, but a young person lacks experience, since some length of time is needed to produce it (Nicomachean Ethics 1142 a)." 

Phronesis is concerned with particulars, because it is concerned with how to act in particular situations. One can learn the principles of action, but applying them in the real world, in situations one could not have foreseen, requires experience of the world. For example, if one knows that one should be honest, one might act in certain situations in ways that cause pain and offense; knowing how to apply honesty in balance with other considerations and in specific contexts requires experience.
Aristotle holds that having phronesis is both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous; because phronesis is practical, it is impossible to be both phronetic and akratic [a state in which one acts against one’s better judgment]; i.e., prudent persons cannot act against their "better judgement."


Aristotle's importance to mediaeval European thought led phronesis to be included as one
of the four cardinal virtues.
Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg, in his book Making Social Science Matter, has argued that instead of trying to emulate the natural sciences, the social sciences should be practiced as phronesis.

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Phronetic social science

Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the Aristotelian concept phronesis, variously translated as practical judgment, common sense, or prudence. Phronesis is the intellectual virtue used to deliberate about which social actions are good or bad for humans. Phronetic social scientists study social phenomena with a focus on values and power. Researchers ask and answer the following four value-rational questions for specific instances of social action:
  1. Where are we going?
  2. Is this development desirable?
  3. Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of power?
  4. What, if anything, should we do about it?
Phronetic social science was first described by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg in his book Making Science Matter. Here he presented phronetic social science as an alternative to epistemic social science, that is, social science modeled after the natural sciences. Flyvbjerg observed that despite centuries of trying the natural science model still does not work in social science: No predictive social theories have been arrived at as yet, if prediction is understood in the natural science sense. Flyvbjerg held that as long as social science would try to emulate natural science, social science would stand as loser in the Science wars.

If, however, the social sciences modeled themselves after phronesis they would be strong where the natural sciences are weak, namely in the deliberation about values and power that is essential to social and economic development in modern society. Flyvbjerg's position was further developed in the so-called Flyvbjerg Debate. Efforts to develop phronetic social science have been supported by leading social scientists like Pierre Bourdieu and Clifford Geertz.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Nick Bostrom

Nick Bostrom is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. He was interviewed by Ross Andersen, himself a freelance writer who often writes about technology for The Atlantic, where his interview with Bostrom was published on March 6, 2012.

The interview expressly covers the topic of the possibility of human extinction in the future. Bostrom’s answers are powerful, insightful, brilliant, and disturbing.

Rather than attempt to summarize this interview in a glib and journalistic fashion, I find it more eidetic to simply supply the link and allow the reader to become absorbed in the ghastly mystery of pondering human extinction and human future survival. Here is the interview, an article titled, "We’re Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction."


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Nick Bostrum's website:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An Argument For Electric Cars

New Battery Could Make Long-Distance Electric Cars Possible

In an article by Scientific American of February 27, 2012 by David Biello, significant improvements in high capacity batteries are discussed. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy announced that Envia System has a news lithium-ion battery pack with roughly twice as much energy per gram as present batteries, 400 watt-hours per kilogram. This achievement has been validated independently through density tests at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

Envia used a $4 million ARPA-e grant to base its work on the experiments at the Argonne National Laboratory which found that using a mix of materials for the cathode that included manganese achieves better densities. Envia then examined the anode and boosted its performance through inclusion of silicon along with the expected graphite. Coating silicon with carbon gets around the problem of silicon swelling, which limits the cycles of charging to ten or fewer. Envia contends that it can recharge through its coated anode 400 times or more.

Envia has also dealt with the problem of "thermal runaway," which is a euphemism for batteries bursting into flames. Envia uses thinner cells which make it easy to remove the heat.

An Envia center in China has developed slim energy-dense batteries that cost only $125 per kilowatt-hour, less than half the cost of current batteries. This is important because batteries are 65 percent the cost of electric cars. The Envia battery must now move to the multi-year process of testing done by actual automobile manufacturers. Either joint ventures to produce the batteries in tandem or licensing the technology are being considered.

In a statement announcing the breakthrough, Envia said the achievement seeks to "revolutionize the industry by eliminating the three remaining barriers to mass adoption: cost, range and safety," by providing a 300 mile range for electric vehicles.

Summarized from:

Monday, March 5, 2012

An Argument Against Electric Cars

Why the Electric Car Is Doomed to Fail

By Stacy Curtin, Daily Ticker
March 2, 2012

Auto sales for the month of February rocked.

Despite rising gasoline prices, consumers bought more cars last month than in any month since 2008.   Estimates for total 2012 car sales rose from 14.1 million in January to 15 million in February.

Chrysler's sales were up 40% for the month, while Ford (F) reported a 14% increase and GM (GM) a 1.1% increase, which is comparably small, but better-than-expected.

The rise in sales comes as drivers are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. Sales of the Ford Focus more than doubled month-over-month and truck sales for GM, Ford and Chrysler jumped more than 20% as consumers traded up for more models with better gas mileage.

With gasoline prices on the rise, it is no surprise that consumers are looking for ways to save on gas.

But for many Americans the answer currently does not mean buying an electric car. These automobiles cost at least $30,000 due to their batteries, which typically account for half the cost of the car. On top of that, there is also the factor of "range anxiety," or not knowing if your car will get you to your destination, not knowing if there will be a place to charge the battery once you arrive at the destination, says Ron Adner who is a professor of strategy at Dartmouth University.

Many of those issues are currently being addressed but consumers still are not buying electric cars in droves.

In February, sales of electric and hybrid cars were mixed. GM sold 70% more Chevy Volts from January to February and the same goes for Toyota and its Prius Hybrid. While Volt sales are still below the December 2011 all-time highs, forecasts do project GM will sell nearly 10,000 of the electric vehicles by year-end, or roughly 30% more than last year. Meanwhile, sales of the Nissan Leaf have ticked down for more than five months in a row. February was the worst monthly sales report for the Japanese company in almost a year.

While the sales of some electric cars are up month-over-month, the number of electric cars sold is tiny in comparison to the rest of the auto market. It will likely remain that way unless changes are made fast says Adner, who is also the author of the new book, The Wide Lens: A Strategy for Innovation.

"I'm rooting for the electric car.... I think it is a great idea and I think we need it," he says. "But the current approach to the electric car is doomed to fail in the mass market" and it is "not because these cars aren't great" but because two key factors which plague the electric car market.

#1: Fix the Resale Market

"For most Americans a car is an investment and when you think about what car you want to buy the resale value matters a lot," says Adner. "The resale value for an electric car is dramatically different than for a regular car and it all comes from the battery," which is half the cost of the car.

As is typical of batteries, they get used up after a certain amount of use. They have a
finite lifespan, which leaves you with "depreciation on the most expensive part of your car," Adner says.

But battery technology is constantly improving. "That is great news for everyone who has not yet bought a car," he notes. But "[if] You buy a 2012 (Nissan) Leaf and you try to sell it back to the market in 2016 and [guess] what you find?"

You'll find that the technology is outdated and much better in newer vehicles. "Suddenly selling your car back to the market is like selling a used computer," which, like all technology, tends not to hold value upon resale.
Adner does have a solution. "You have to decouple the purchase of the car and the purchase of the battery…using a model that looks just like the cell phone providers who also give you a really expensive piece of hardware [but] take the depreciation out of your hands by putting you on a multi-year contract." In the accompanying interview, he tells Aaron that one company called Better Place is already doing this.

#2 Create a Smart Grid

"The electric car as a construct itself suffers from the problem that its own success brings about its failure," Adner says. "As long as only three of us are driving an electric car it is not a problem, but if half of New York City drove electric cars and plugged it in when they got to work in the morning the power grid would collapse."

This is very intuitive. As more electric cars come on line, the bigger the problem for energy suppliers. Adner says if the electric car is to have a chance, America needs a smart grid, a proposition the country has been mulling for the last 20 plus years.

If the resale and smart grid issues are addressed, "the electric car can be a success," he says. "But unless they are crossed the electric car cannot win."