Friday, May 29, 2009

Another Reason Why Smoking is REALLY Stupid

“Littering is one of my pet peeves, and I always told my kids they’d be in big trouble if I catch them doing it,” said Ms. Scott, a 43-year-old financial executive, as she sat outside an office tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on a recent sunny afternoon. “I see people throw stuff out their car windows, and I cringe.

Yet she confesses that she routinely discards cigarette butts on the sidewalk.

For her and countless other American smokers, cigarette butts are an exception to the no-littering rule. “Aren’t cigarettes biodegradable?” volunteered Libby Moustakas, a co-worker who was enjoying a smoking break with Ms. Scott.

But dozens of municipalities across the nation have had enough. Weary of the butts’ unsightliness and the costs of sweeping them up, cities have passed bans on smoking on beaches and playgrounds. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom said last week that he would go a step further, seeking a 33-cents-a-pack tax to cover the $11 million that the city spends annually to remove cigarette litter.

Nationally, cigarette butts account for one-quarter or more of the items tossed onto streets and other roadways, San Francisco and other cities report.

Assume is the Ass of You and Me. :)

GW - And So It Begins

UNITED NATIONSWith their boundless vistas of turquoise water framed by swaying coconut palms, the Carteret Islands northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland might seem the idyllic spot to be a castaway.

But sea levels have risen so much that during the annual king tide season, November to March, the roiling ocean blocks the view from one island to the next, and residents stash their possessions in fishing nets strung between the palm trees.

“It gives you the scary feeling that you don’t know what is going to happen to you, that any minute you will be floating,” Ursula Rakova, the head of a program to relocate residents, said by telephone. The chain could well be uninhabitable by 2015, locals believe, but two previous attempts to abandon it ended badly, when residents were chased back after clashing with their new neighbors on larger islands.

This dark situation underlies the thorny debate over the world’s responsibilities to the millions of people likely to be displaced by climate change.

There could be 200 million of these climate refugees by 2050, according to a new policy paper by the International Organization for Migration, depending on the degree of climate disturbances.

If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind. - Kurt Vonnegut

Like so many of Vonnegut's works, this one makes you think. RM

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

With God on Our Side

"This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: "It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men."

The BA goes beyond, beyond with Rummy as Christian cheerleader for Bush and Cheney. Even though I am an atheist, I thank god Bushworld (("It's their reality. We just live and die in it.") is gone even though the stench of same will take decades to overcome.

"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." - H. L. Mencken

Socialism, not a dirty word

"And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt.

By comparison, the United States is expected to chalk up a fiscal deficit this year equal to 12.9 percent of its gross domestic product and push its total debt to $11 trillion, or 65 percent of the size of its economy."

And...

"Bring on the 12-month paid maternity leaves, the all-access-pass to nationalized health care. Because while capitalism was showing America who's your daddy (in our country, he who has the least morals and the most hunger, laughs all the way to his weekend house in the Hamptons), Norway's socialist finance minister was smugly buying our companies' depressed stock. The country has a cushy 11% budget surplus, zero national debt, and an economy that grew 3% last year while Uncle Sam was dancing a jig into a 12.9% deficit, $11 trillion in debt, and the Recession we now all know and love.

These statistics have me turning red with socialist envy.

Banks make up just two percent of the economy; drug addicts are given government-funded fixes (with clean needles); tight oversight means no excessive lending practices."

If this is a new kind of Kool Aid, I'm ready to drink some. It's time to change our attitude about how socialism works because god knows, capitalism in the US isn't doing too well as of late. I have a good friend from Sweden who shakes his head when discussing healthcare and bailouts in America. In Sweden, single payer universal healthcare is the law of the land and when Swedish banks imploded a few years ago, they were allowed to die, thus enabling the country to get out of recession with greater haste than thought possible, something Obama and company are NOT doing as we continue to pour our money into the black hole of WS zombie banks.

Food for thought if you ask me.

Idiot America

The whole group then bustles into the lobby of the building, where they are greeted by the long neck of a huge, herbivorous dinosaur. The kids run past that and around a corner, where stands another, smaller dinosaur.

Which is wearing a saddle.

It is an English saddle, hornless and battered. Apparently, this was a dinosaur used for dressage competitions and stakes races. Any working dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would wear a sturdy western saddle.

This is very much a show dinosaur.

The dinosaurs are the first things you see when you enter the
Creation Museum, which is very much a work in progress and the dream child of an Australian named Ken Ham. Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization of which the museum one day will be the headquarters. The people here today are on a special tour. They have paid $149 to become "charter members" of the museum.

"Dinosaurs," Ham laughs as he poses for pictures with his visitors, "always get the kids interested."

Why we are going to hell.

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

This gem is from Gizmondo and Found Footage. :). a-slutty-babysitter-falls-afoul-of-the-worlds-deadliest-washing-machine

FF is without a doubt, one of the funniest sites in the world as these guys find unintentionally hilarious corporate videos that rock. The Winnebago man is a classic along with the Wendy's training video on how to grill spam. To see other beauties, click on the FF trailer seen below.

Found Footage Festival - Vol. 2 Trailer


Click here to see more trailers, you will not be disappointed. :)

Oh, I forgot the best of the best, the immortal exploding whale.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wake Up Call

Just finished a brilliant article by Fred Branfman that really makes one think...

"The Briefer: You are being sent to the United States of America, Earth’s most powerful nation, at a time of great economic, geopolitical and biospheric crisis.

In Is Humanity Suicidal? E. O. Wilson, one of Earth’s leading biologists, wrote: "People place themselves first, family second, tribe third, and the rest of the world a distant fourth. During all but the last few millennia of the two million years of [their] existence ... a premium was placed on close attention to the near future … So today the human mind still works comfortably backward and forward only a few years." This is a precise description of how America and the world have reached its present crisis. Powerful elites have preyed upon the poor and gullible to destroy national economies and even their own companies, enriching themselves at the expense of others. Now, only a dramatic transformation without precedent in human experience—changing from modes of competition to cooperation, consumption to investment and short- to long-term thinking—can save the species."


Time to make a change on how we do business on planet earth because time's running out.

"So is the heating of the planet the only problem?

No. Also of particular concern is the state of the Earth’s oceans. The moderate Economist magazine’s survey of the world’s oceans concluded on December 31, 2008: "Fish are now almost everywhere in decline. Coral reefs have suffered most. The sea is hideously polluted. Ice melts. Each of these changes is a catastrophe. Together they make for something much worse. Moreover, they are happening alarmingly fast. Many are irreversible." Wisely, it stated that "the mass extinction, however remote, that should be concentrating minds is that of mankind."


Read the complete piece as if our future depends on it because, in indirect fashion, it does.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Single Payer

As a systems guy who knows a little bit about communications, the web and databases, it never ceases to amaze me when politicians' unenlightened self interest enables greed and incompetence to be injected into, in this case, Universal Health Care, an environment the vast majority of Americans, including me, want as a single payer entity. According to Ralph Nader, there's a damn good reason why...

"Among the giant taboos afflicting Congress these days is the proposal to create a single payer health insurance system (often called full Medicare for everyone).

How can this be? Don’t the elected politicians represent the people? Don't they always have their finger to the wind?

Well, single payer is only supported by a majority of the American people, physicians and nurses. They like the idea of public funding and private delivery. They like the free choice of doctors and hospitals that many are now denied by
the HMOs.

There are also great administrative efficiencies when single payer displaces the health insurance industry and its claims-denying, benefit-restricting, bureaucratically-heavy profiteering. According to leading researchers in this area, Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, single payer will save $350 billion annually.

Yet, on Capitol Hill and at the White House there are no meetings, briefings,
hearings, and consultations about kinds of health care reforms that reform the basic price inflation, indifference to prevention, and discrimination by health insurers.

There is no place at the table for single payer advocates in the view of the Congressional leaders who set the agenda and muzzle dissenters.

Last month at a breakfast meeting with reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to a question about health care with these revealing and exasperating words: "Over and over again, we hear single payer, single payer,
single payer. Well, it's not going to be a single payer."

Thus spake Speaker Pelosi, the Representative from Aetna? Never mind that 75 members of her party have signed onto H.R. 676-the Conyers single payer legislation. Never mind that in her San Francisco district, probably three out of four people want single payer. And never mind that over 20,000 people die every year, according to the Institute of Medicine, because they cannot afford health insurance."


Simply unreal and it gets even better.

Baucus (Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) crafted a hearing to kick off the health care debate in the Senate yesterday where 15 witnesses would be at the table to discuss health care reform.

The insurance industry was at the table.

The Business Roundtable was at the table.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was at the table.

Blue Cross Blue Shield was at the table.

The Heritage Foundation was at the table.


And corporate liberals like Andy Stern, Ron Pollack, and AARP were at the table.

But not one person who stood for what the majority of Americans, doctors, nurses, and health economists want - single payer - was at the table.


Not one.

"As Senator Baucus started his introductory remarks, something happened. One by one, eight people in the audience, most of them physicians and lawyers, stood up to politely but insistently protest the absence of a single payer presentation.

One by one, the police came, took them out of the hearing room, arrested and handcuffed them. The charge was "disruption of Congress"--a misdemeanor.


Amerika anyone?

Click here to see civil "disobedience" at it's best, something we are going to see a lot more of in the weeks and months ahead as the economy continues it's downward slide while the connected and powerful take the "Let them eat cake." attitude toward us great unwashed.

I wonder if Obama and company remember what happened to Marie Antoinette even though she probably did not say that famous quote. I do.

Wolfram Alpha

A new era in computing may start on May 18.

"Mr. Wolfram’s service does not search through Web pages, and it will not help with movie times or camera shopping. Instead it computes the answers to queries using enormous collections of data the company has amassed. It can quickly spit out facts like the average body mass index of a 40-year-old male, whether the Eiffel Tower is taller than Seattle’s Space Needle, and whether it is high tide in Miami right now.

WolframAlpha, which is expected to be available to the public at wolframalpha.com in the next week, is not a finished product. It is an early working version of a project that has been years in the making and will continue to evolve over years, if not decades. As such, there is much it cannot answer now."


Answering questions is something long sought after for internet trolls like yours truly. If Wolfram Alpha lives up to the hype, the answer to my prayers will have been answered. :)

The Credit Card Bomb

Next up: The Credit Card Bomb

"But if unemployment breaches 10 percent, as many economists predict, the rate of uncollectible balances at some banks could far exceed that level. At American Express and Capital One Financial, around 20 percent of the credit card balances are expected to go bad over this year and next, according to stress test results. At Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, about 23 percent of card loans are expected to sour.

Even the government’s grim projections may vastly understate the size of the banks’ credit card troubles. According to estimates by Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, card losses at the nation’s biggest banks could reach $141.5 billion by 2010 if the regulators’ loss rate was applied to their entire credit card business. It could top $186 billion for the entire credit card industry."


Addendum: We haven't even discussed the looming specter of commercial property defaults, the dirty secret the banks are holding onto to limit losses on their books, something that must eventually be reported if they are to be considered as viable business entities in this rapidly contracting economy.

Fox Guarding the Hen House

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House told industry officials on Friday that it is leaning toward recommending that the Federal Reserve become the supercop for "too big to fail" companies capable of causing another financial meltdown.

After substituting Bernanke for Paulson, one immediately understands who owns this country.

Any Questions?

To understand what kind of entity the Fed is, click here.

Knowing how this country manages its money is of paramount importance but there's a problem, 99.9% of the people in America don't know and for good reason, We were never taught.

Where ignorance is bliss, / ‘Tis folly to be wise.’” - Thomas Gray:


Addendum:

This week, the government released the results of the stress tests performed on the nation’s 19 largest banks. According to the report, Bank of America’s $34 billion hole was the largest. The Wall Street Journal reports, however, that the Fed Reserve initially estimated Bank of America’s figure at more than $50 billion. Over the last few weeks, a number of banks successfully lobbied the Fed to make the stress tests less stressful:

The Federal Reserve significantly scaled back the size of the capital hole facing some of the nation’s biggest banks shortly before concluding its stress tests, following two weeks of intense bargaining.

In addition, according to bank and government officials, the Fed used a different measurement of bank-capital levels than analysts and investors had been expecting, resulting in much smaller capital deficits."

Fed Head, Ben Bernankie

So much for Change, eh?

Just had to link to Slate with their piece called Fed Dread.

to whit...

A quasi-independent, public-private body, the New York Fed is the first among equals of the 12 regional Fed branches. Unlike the Washington Federal Reserve Board of Governors, or the other regional fed branches, the N.Y. Fed is active in the markets virtually every day, changing the critical interest rates that determine the liquidity of the markets and the profitability of banks. And, like the other regional branches, it has boundless power to examine, at will, the books of virtually any banking institution and require that wide-ranging actions be taken—from raising capital to stopping lending—to ensure the stability and soundness of the bank. Over the past year, the New York Fed has been responsible for committing trillions of dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the coffers of the banks it oversees.

And this from Robert Scheer & Truthdig...

When N.Y. Fed Chairman Stephen Friedman bought stock in the company that he once headed, and where he still serves as a director, he was already in violation of Federal Reserve policy and was hoping for a waiver to permit him to hold his existing multi-million-dollar stock stash and to remain on the Goldman board. The waiver was requested last October by Timothy Geithner, then the president of the N.Y. Fed and now Treasury secretary. Yet, without having received that waiver, Friedman went ahead in December and purchased 37,300 additional shares. With shares he added in January, after the waiver was granted, he ended up with 98,600 shares in Goldman Sachs, worth a total of $13,330,720 at the close of trading on Tuesday.

Friedman was in violation of the Fed’s policy because, thanks in part to the urging of Geithner and the N.Y. Fed, Goldman Sachs was allowed to become a bank holding company, making it eligible for government bailout funds (an option that Geithner had denied to Goldman rival Lehman Brothers)


Guess who ran this beast prior to Obama becoming president.

Same as it ever was - Talking Heads


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Ultimate Twitterer

Marcel Proust, author of Swann's Way and Remembrance of Things Past, was the ultimate stream-of-consciousness writer. When reading Proust, one gets the sense of how important the immediate sensation of being alive at any given moment was the essence of Proust's reality.
"For a long time I used to go to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say to myself: "I'm falling asleep. And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would make as if to put away the book which I imagined was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had gone on thinking, while I was asleep, about what I had just been reading, but these thoughts had taken a rather peculiar turn; it seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between Fran├žois I and Charles V."

Needless to say, reading Proust is intense. I still remember Swann's Way as a novel filled with summer light, something akin to Edwin Hopper's paintings but much warmer in tone and oh so precious in attitude.

This quote below says it all, especially the part with James Joyce, the other great SOC writer, meeting Proust for the first and only time in 1922.

"Throughout his life Proust suffered from asthma. He was looked after by his Jewish mother, to whom the writer was – neurotically – attached. After the death of his father in 1903 and mother in 1905, Proust withdrew gradually from high-society circles. Until 1919 Proust lived in a soundproof flat, at the 102 Boulevard Haussmann, where he devoted himself to writing and introspection. When James Joyce met Proust at a midnight supper in the fashionable Majestic Hotel in May 1922, the two great innovative writers did not speak more than a few words with each other. "Of course the situation was impossible," Joyce recalled later. "Proust's day was just beginning. Mine was at an end."

Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end of Ulysses is sublime.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The 2nd Law

One of the best books I have ever read is Into the Cool by Eric D. Schneider & Dorion Sagan. The best passage in their book, IMHO, is "Nature Abhors Gradients", a statement that stays in my head, foreverreminding me nature is both modular and economical in terms of how reality works. Take the most energy efficient way possible to delineate anything (flows) because the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics rules. Because of this, the linkage between living and physical systems becomes common sense, something now codified as science fact in Constructural Theory whereby "Thermodynamics becomes a science of systems with configuration."

While looking at the Constructural site, the connect to D'arcy Thomson's seminal On Growth & Form resonates as Thompson explains not only how biological forms take shape but also how their shapes relate to design and mathematics.

To better understand why D'arcy Thomson's 1917 masterpiece never ceases to amaze me, just look at the transformation piece of a fish using shear mapping, a concept that shows, in elegant fashion, how structural changes in an evolving species can happen in logically consistent ways.

I don't care much about music. What I like is sounds. - Dizzy Gillespie

To get another take on Constructural Theory, click here.

Had to put a clip of Dizzy (& Bird) in this piece as Dizzy was simply awesome as composer, musician and really cool guy.