Monday, June 28, 2010

Exobrain

By Scott Adams

I'm fascinated by the phenomenon of manipulating our environment to extend our brains. I suppose it all started with early humans carving on cave walls as a way to store historical data. Now we have ebooks, computers, and cell phones to store our memories. And we have schools to program our brains. But it goes much deeper than that. Even a house is a device for storing data. Specifically, a house stores data on how it was built. A skilled builder can study a house and build another just like it.

Everything we create becomes a de facto data storage device and brain accessory. A wall can be a physical storage device for land survey data, it can be a reminder of history, and it can be a trigger of personal memories.

A business is also a way to store data. As a restaurant owner, I was fascinated at how employees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the business, especially in the kitchen. The restaurant was like a giant data filter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being written down.

When you design a flower garden, its main purpose is to influence people's minds in a positive and peaceful fashion. A flower garden is a brain reprogramming tool. It jacks into any human brain that enters its space and reprograms that brain in a predetermined way. We don't think of it in those terms, but the process is nonetheless deliberate.

My wife and I designed our new house as a brain supplement, although we never spoke of it in those words. Every element of the home is designed to reprogram the brains that enter it to feel relaxed in some of its spaces and inspired in others. The language I used at the time of the design was that every space should be an invitation. (I'll talk more on that topic in an upcoming post.) When guests walk through the house for the first time, we can watch the house change people's attitudes and emotions in real time. It's fascinating.

I suppose other creatures use their environment for storing information, or programming their brains in limited ways. But I assume humans export the highest percentage of brain function to their environment, and it grows daily. The evolution of mind from inside the creature to outside the body fascinates me. Humans are turning the entire planet into an exobrain. Our brains can't hold all of the data we produce, so we look for ways to offload to books, websites, music, and architecture, to name a few storage devices. And we manipulate the environment to reprogram our brains as needed.

Years ago I worked with a young intern at Crocker Bank who believed his first step toward success was to find a place to live in a prosperous suburb. His theory was that the external environment would program his brain for the sort of success that his neighbors would have already found. I remember mocking him for his offbeat and naïve theory. Now I think he's a genius for understanding at such an early age that his environment was a tool for programming his brain. I lost touch with him, but I'll bet he's a millionaire now

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wall Street Reform


Politicians Lie, Media Applauds, America Suffers

By Dylan Ratigan On June 25, 2010

The same Washington spinsters who have driven our country into the ground seem to be out in full force this morning, claiming that their latest policy “victory” is the most “sweeping change [1]” of our financial regulatory since the Great Depression.

Actually, it is nothing more than window dressing.

The real sweeping change of our financial system took place over the past 20 years. The irresponsible repeal of Glass-Steagall [2] in 1999. The Commodities and Futures Modernization Act of 2000 [3]by Larry Summers and Bob Rubin — the one that legalized the most destructive financial instruments of all, derivatives. The leverage exemption at the SEC in 2004 [4], asked for (in person) and received by Hank Paulson [5]and friends.

Of course, there are small victories here — there is better investor protection [6]and, most importantly, an awakened citizenry.

What’s not fixed?

- The Cops (regulators [7]and ratings agencies [8]) working for the crooks.

- Banks still Too Big To Fail [9].

- Banks gambling [10]with your deposits.

- Banks allowed to “mark to myth [11]” and use off-balance [12] sheet accounting to bonus themselves into the atmosphere [13], with the taxpayer taking the fall [14].

- Banks getting trillions from the Fed [15], Fannie and Freddie [16] — AKA you, the future [17]and present taxpayer.

What does it mean for us?

It means that the same people who brought you these horrible changes — rising wealth [18]discrepancy, massive unemployment [19]and a crumbling infrastructure [20]– have now further institutionalized the policies that will keep the causes of these problems firmly in place.

Meanwhile, all involved in the facade try to pretend that this should be considered a success because, gosh, real financial reform is just too hard and those crafty banksters will just outsmart us anyhow. Many in the media are either too complicit, too confused or too lazy to contradict this spin, but the rest of us shouldn’t buy that BS. Real and lasting financial reform is actually quite easy to implement [21] — and the last time we had a crisis of this magnitude, we kept the banksters in check for 70 years.

Time [22]and time [23]again in America, they don’t win — we do.

And I believe as we head towards election time with leaders whose only plan for creating new jobs is a few more workers manicuring soon-to-be [24] even bigger [25]Bankster bonus-fueled estates [26]coupled with a few more government handouts, this lesson will be learned once again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

William Irwin Thompson


Thinking Otherwise—Technical Hubris and the Sinkhole of Obama's Centrism

When a technological enthusiast recently called for an undersea nuclear blast to seal the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, I recalled another time some forty years ago, when another American engineer, fascinated by the entire moon’s vibration at the lift off of the Apollo moon capsule, called for an atomic blast on the moon to measure its scale of resonant vibration.

It was, no doubt, an opportunity for a fascinating experiment, and our short-sleeved and short-sighted, flat-topped but unlevel-headed NASA engineer probably got off at the thought of shaking Mother Nature up a bit.

It never occurred to the lunatic engineer to consider that the moon’s orbit might be disturbed enough to be gravitationally attracted back to Earth, or displaced from its protective position for us on Earth as an attractor for asteroids; nor did it occur to the atomic bomb enthusiast that a tsunami might take out all the Florida Keys and coastal cities of the Gulf and poison the food chain for a quarter of a million years.

Speaking as a former MIT professor, I must say that the fact that two technicians could utter such nonsense indicates our great failing in the education of engineers, architects, and technical experts of all sorts. We Americans have an admirable “Can do!” mentality, but considering our fixing of Iraq and our present fixing of Afghanistan, it is time to step back, re-assess, and perhaps develop a new and humbler mentality, one that is no longer based on the World War Two mind-set of fixing the old world order with a new one based on atom bombs and Marshall Plans and newsreels of GI’s passing out Hershey bars to the admiring children standing to the side of history in their tattered European rags.

We need to think in a new way. When designing anything, the first thing we should ask is: What does the system excrete and how can we recycle that shadow-form into its on-going forms of production? The second question we should ask is: What are the ways the system can fail, and how can we make failure reinforce a process of correction and rescue?

All human systems fail at some point. Bowstrings snap, bullets jam, boilers explode, and airplanes crash. Deep sea oil rigs and nuclear reactors are simply too complex for Homo sapiens to be wise enough to manage. And if human cleverness is compromised by the greed and short-sightedness of a Halliburton or a BP and capitalism’s systemic purchase of government officials, then we are doubly exposed, as the surrounding system of management is not one of protection, but of menace.

In the Jeffersonian eighteenth-century agrarian vision of governance, “That government is best that governs least.” Since history has been said to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, Jefferson has found his farcical reprise with the contemporary Tea Partiers.

Because our TV instantiated short-term memories have robbed us of the long-term memory of history and the reflective ponderings of reading, our contemporary citizens, incited by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, are angry and threatened. But they do not direct their anger at the invisible forces that do actually threaten them--such as Goldman Sachs, Fox News, Halliburton, or BP; instead, they direct their anger into the channels suggested to them by the owners of the media. So birthers claim Obama is an alien and that his programs are socialist, when they are entirely centrist and completely lacking in the ability to re-vision our historical situation and energize a new paradigm of political and civilizational thinking.

Were the Tea Partiers and the fans of Sarah Palin reflective citizens and intelligent readers, they might be able to recall in the long-term memory of history the real conditions of life in an unrestrained world of free enterprise. There were twelve hour work days, child labor and no public education; there was no public health or safety requirements for the work place; there was no public inspection of meat factories or sea food and produce. What was indeed free and omnipresent was disease and death. Government was, and has become again, a more civil form of organized crime.

These were the good old days of the culture of the real America, before uppity blacks from Harvard and Latina judges from Princeton led the rural white Tea Partiers and Libertarians into this miasma of a multi-culti world.

President Obama ran his campaign on a program of hope and a renewed sense of the invincible American “Can do!” spirit with his incantatory slogan of “Yes, we can!” Readers of his book, Dreams from My Father, will recognize in his presidency the traits he showed early on as the nice young black man who learned how not to make elderly white women like his grandmother feel afraid. He was always an idealist, but never an ideologue. And so to save the economic system, he rescued the banks. To get health insurance passed by Congress, he appeased the medical insurance corporations. To keep the lights on for American cities and the American economy running on its airplanes, trucks, and SUVs, he has called for off-shore drilling and more nuclear reactors. Nowhere has he called for the re-visioning of industrial civilization, the rethinking of the global projection of American military power, and at no time has he recognized that our technological
mentality is contributing to our extinction. While President Obama seeks to fix failed states in Pakistan and Afghanistan northern Mexico is fast becoming a failed state.The drug wars have opened a giant sinkhole that can swallow up the entire Southwest and turn El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles into other versions of Ciudad Juarez.

In fact, the sinkhole, like the black oil jet in the sea, has become an archetypal symbol of our new political landscape. Obama reached across the aisle in a spirit of rational compromise, but the aisle was only a red carpet over an abyss.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Greed Is Dangerous


BP had 4 years to prepare and prevent this disaster — and they blew it:

Do you remember the Prudhoe Bay leak and the Texas City explosion? They were big news at the time, though they quickly faded from the headlines. BP was fined $21 million for the numerous violations that contributed to the Texas City explosion, and it was forced to endure a phased shutdown of its Alaska operations while it repaired the corroded pipeline, which cost it additional revenue.

In retrospect, though, the two accidents represented something else as well: they were a huge gift to the company. The fact that these two accidents — thousands of miles apart, and involving very different parts of BP — took place within a year showed that something was systemically wrong with BP’s culture. Mr. Browne had built BP by taking over other oil companies, like Amoco in 1998, and then ruthlessly cutting costs, often firing the acquired company’s most experienced engineers. Taking shortcuts was ingrained in the company’s culture, and everyone in the oil business knew it.

The accidents should have been the wake-up call BP needed to change that culture. But the mistakes and negligence that took place on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico — which are so profound that everyone I spoke to in the oil business found them truly inexplicable — suggest that the two men never did much more than mouth nice-sounding platitudes.

Which also makes the disaster even more unforgivable than it already is. BP executives had four years to fix the company’s problems before an accident took place that was truly catastrophic. And they blew it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Memories


Your mind is not your own.

Freud might have been wrong in the details, but one of his main ideas—that a lot of our behaviors and beliefs and emotions are driven by factors we are unaware of—turns out to be correct. If you’re in a happy, optimistic, ambitious mood, check the weather. Sunny days make people happier and more helpful. In a taste test, you’re likely to have a strong preference for the first sample you taste—even if all of the samples are identical. The more often you see a person or an object, the more you’ll like it. Mating decisions are based partly on smell. Our cognitive failings are legion: we take a few anecdotes and make incorrect generalizations, we misinterpret information to support our preconceptions, and we’re easily distracted or swayed by irrelevant details. And what we think of as memories are merely stories we tell ourselves anew each time we recall an event. That’s true even for flashbulb memories, the ones that feel as though they’ve been burned into the brain:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Government


Bank Symbiosis

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Grim Truth


By Lance Freeman

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.


I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this, you are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system. If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once, your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance. And don’t believe for a second that rot about America having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good.

This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections. In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you, it’s the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin. Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor. Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep.

With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one. I’ll let you in on little secret: if you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so. Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would time to get on a plane and rush back to your job.

If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:

Finland: 44
Italy: 42
France: 39
Germany: 35
UK: 25
Japan: 18
USA: 12

The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week anyway). The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your coworkers for as long as it suits them, then they’ll get rid of you.

Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: the system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery. America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

And that’s just physical freedom. Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things.

But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. You are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: there is a socio-economic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means.

If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope. But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: the working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word.

If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex. At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending?

If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians. Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees and lobbyists. One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him.

No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing. The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008 and now its lenders, starting with China, are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing jobs and white-collar jobs overseas, and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure and raw materials. Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service/financial economy) do think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

Equally likely is a sudden collapse, perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea and the OPEC nations. A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: governmental spending is skyrocketing and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife and fascism. Let’s face it: the United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only. You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays and immigrants. You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses.

On top of all that you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs and a truck-based shipping system, all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns. In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be.

Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move, online, in the street and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken. Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping.

I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.

So what should you do?

You should leave the United States of America.

If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices. You can teach English in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa. If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice.

You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free and abundant than we ever could have attained back home. Some of us happened upon these lives by accident – we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it – others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes. Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

In closing, I want to remind you of something – unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homeland in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?